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California Briefing / Santa Barbara

Fire containment expected May 20

May 13, 2009|Catherine Saillant

Fire officials Tuesday were anxiously watching for a return of winds to the hills above town as crews continued cutting containment lines around the still-burning Jesusita wildfire.

About 3,140 firefighters and equipment operators worked to douse smoldering embers and carve wide swaths around the fire zone. The blaze was 80% contained, and fire officials expect full containment May 20 if the weather cooperates. Earlier, they had forecast containment for today.

"This fire is still burning," said Michele Mickiewicz, a spokeswoman for Santa Barbara County's emergency operations center.

By late afternoon, winds of 15 to 20 mph were blowing in the San Marcos Pass area, close to the fire's western flank, Mickiewicz said. The air was calmer in the foothills above Montecito, but southwest winds up to 65 mph were possible, she said, adding, "There is all kinds of preplanning going on in case anything changes to move the fire eastward."

Most of the 30,000 residents evacuated at the height of the fire have returned home. The blaze has burned 8,733 acres, destroyed 78 homes and cost $13.5 million to fight. Officials say it may have been sparked by someone using a weed whacker on the Jesusita trail.

-- Catherine Saillant

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