Thousands Flee Tony California Town as Blaze Rages

Natural Disasters Posted on

[##_1L|1283156839.jpg|width="87" height="87" alt=""|_##]Firefighters were racing early Friday to push back a wind-whipped wildfire that destroyed at least 100 homes and a college dormitory, injured four people and forced thousands to flee the longtime celebrity hideaway of Montecito. The fire broke out just before 6 p.m. Thursday and spread to about 2,500 acres — nearly 4 square miles — by early Friday, destroying dozens of luxury homes and parts of a college campus in the foothills of Montecito, just southeast of Santa Barbara. About 5,400 homes in the tony community of 14,000 residents were evacuated and more people could be forced to flee if the fire spreads, said Nicole Koon, a spokeswoman with the Santa Barbara County Executive Office.

"We believe 100 plus homes have been destroyed," Koon said. "It's our best guess at the moment because it's dark. We're not counting as much as trying to protect the homes."

At Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts college nestled amid wooded rolling hills, some 1,000 students were caught off-guard by the rapidly moving flames.

"It came pretty fast," said Tyler Rollema, a 19-year-old sophomore who was eating dinner in the cafeteria when students were told to head to the gym. "We came out and it was just blazing."

Thousands of feet above the flames, footage shot from television helicopters showed what initially looked like a massive campfire with dozens of glowing embers. When cameras zoomed in, however, what appeared to be flaring coals turned out to be houses — many of them sprawling estates — gutted by flame. Palm trees were lit like burning matches.

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