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"Cave Fire" explodes in Southern California mountains, forcing thousands to evacuate

"Cave Fire" threatens thousands of homes

A wind-driven brush fire that erupted in the Southern California mountains Monday quickly burned more than 4,000 acres by early Tuesday, fire officials said. The "Cave Fire" jumped a highway near the Santa Barbara city limits, CBS Los Angeles reports, in an area that hasn't burned in 29 years.

The fire threatened some 2,400 homes. Evacuation orders were issued for 6,000 people, but many have since been allowed back home. An approaching storm is bringing hope that rain will extinguish the flames.

Emergency alerts were sent to mobile devices and reverse 911 calls were issued to residents in the area of the flames, CBS affiliate KCOY-TV reports. Some terrified residents had to race down a mountain as flames came within inches of their cars.

Santa Barbara County fire spokesman Mike Eliason said on Twitter the blaze was 0% contained.

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A look at the Cave Fire in Santa Barbara County. RMG News

The Associated Press said the fire was burning through dry, brushy canyons and ridges. Winds were clocked at 30 mph and forecasts called for occasional 60 to 70 mph gusts Tuesday morning, but rain was expected later in the day.

Eliason said no structures were destroyed. Crews had used specially equipped helicopters and night vision goggles to attack the erratic wildfire from the air.

"It's been quite the firefight. We have had winds moving upslope, downslope, across the slope," Santa Barbara County Battalion Chief Anthony Stornetta said at a press conference. "We have had firefighters engaging in a structure defense, being pushed out and run out and then turning around and getting right back on those structures."

Miryam Garcia, 21, and her mother, Norma Ramos, 47, fled their home as flames approached, AP reports. "I was just kind of praying that it didn't get to our house," Garcia said. She and her mother stayed overnight with friends and then went to a Red Cross shelter at a community center in Goleta, west of Santa Barbara.

Red Cross official Tony Briggs told AP that 34 people stayed overnight at the shelter, where face masks were being handed out.

While it's still unclear what sparked the Cave Fire, first responders say California's changing climate — marked by more severe droughts and extreme temperatures — is fueling these fires. There isn't much vegetation left in the area to hold soil back, so as it rains, the next threat could be mudslides.

Local agencies filled social media with views of the fire:

Jonathan Vigliotti contributed to this report.

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