Scenic California coastal communities in path of inferno

Firefighters battle flames Sunday as they advance on homes in Carpinteria, Calif. Hundreds of homes and other structures have been destroyed. (Reuters)
Firefighters battle flames Sunday as they advance on homes in Carpinteria, Calif. Hundreds of homes and other structures have been destroyed. (Reuters)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — A raging wildfire pushed toward a string of California coastal cities Sunday, prompting new evacuations as crews fought to save homes amid gusty winds that have fueled blazes for almost a week.

Authorities ordered residents in parts of Carpinteria and Montecito to leave early Sunday as the Thomas Fire edged closer to Santa Barbara, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles on the scenic coast.

The blaze, the worst of six fires in southern California in the last week and already the 10th largest in the state since 1932, has blackened 173,000 acres and left 90,000 homes and businesses without power.

The combination of Santa Ana winds and rugged terrain in the mountains that run through Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have hampered crews, and officials said the Thomas Fire was only 15 percent contained Sunday.

Winds on Sunday evening were expected to reach 55 mph. The fires burning across southern California have forced the evacuation of some 200,000 people and destroyed nearly 800 structures.

Among them are residents of Montecito, one of the state’s wealthiest communities and home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey.

Emmy Leikin, 74, an Emmy-winning songwriter who was ordered Sunday morning to evacuate her Montecito home, said she fled with only her cellphone, medication, eyeglasses and a few apples. But, she said of her belongings and home, “none of that means anything when it is your safety.”

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The fires that began last Monday night collectively have amounted to one of the most massive conflagrations across southern California in the past decade. However, they have been far less deadly than blazes in northern California’s wine country in October that killed more than 40.

In the past week, the only death has been a 70-year-old woman who died Wednesday in a car accident as she tried to flee the flames in Ventura County. Scores of horses have died, including at least 46 at a thoroughbred training facility in San Diego county.

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