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Someone clearing brush may have started Jesusita fire, authorities say

'It's looking like this was not an act of nature,' says a commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.

May 11, 2009|Tony Barboza

SANTA BARBARA — Fire officials Sunday said the Jesusita fire destroyed 77 homes, more than double their earlier estimate, and concluded that the blaze was probably started by someone using power tools to clear brush.

Mild weather allowed firefighters to make progress in containing the fire to the more than 8,700 acres it has burned.

Joe Waterman, an incident commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, did not say what type of tool was used but added: "It's looking like this was not an act of nature."

He said investigators have placed the fire's origin near the Jesusita Trail, which leads into the Santa Ynez Mountains.

The new estimate of destroyed homes stems from a more accurate assessment, which also lowered the number of damaged homes to 22. The blaze has cost $9 million to fight and injured 28 personnel.

About 145 properties and 362 people remain under evacuation orders.

Fire officials expect more progress today but are bracing for winds that by Tuesday could make the blaze flare up. The blaze was about 65% contained, with a fire line built on the southern flank to protect Santa Barbara. Crews spent Sunday building a line along the rugged terrain to the north and mopping up hot spots.

The fire was probably started accidentally, Waterman said. "Any time you use any power tools, there's always the possibility."

Officials are seeking help to identify who was clearing brush in that area between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. last Monday and Tuesday. They asked the public to call (805) 686-5061 or e-mail sbctip@sbcfire.com.

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tony.barboza@latimes.com

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