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Fires Force Evacuations Near Santa Barbara

Firefighters tackled a stubborn wildfire Tuesday in the mountains of Santa Barbara's wine country, with several hundred residents advised to leave their homes over concern that a shift in the wind could push flames their way.

Officials issued the voluntary evacuation notice — the first since the fire began on July 4 — Monday evening.

At the time, the 43-square-mile blaze in the Los Padres National Forest had come within about two miles of some homes, said Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Eli Iskow.

The notice covered a swath of land where Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch is located. Jackson has not been living at the ranch. It was unknown if residents or staff members had evacuated.

The evacuation affected more than 1,000 residents living in and around Los Olivos, a popular tourist spot northwest of Santa Barbara known for its wineries.

A community center has been established for evacuees at a local high school, and a community meeting is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, reports the Santa Barbara News-Press.

The fire has charred 27,600 acres of dry and brittle wilderness. The steep, rocky terrain has complicated efforts to surround the blaze. Firefighters also have had to contend with spotty communications deep in the canyons.

"The problem is it's a wilderness fire. There's no access," said Mike Ferris, a spokesman for the National Incident Management Organization, which is overseeing firefighting efforts.

The blaze remained 35 percent contained Tuesday. Winds were light, but firefighters said they could kick up in the afternoon. Temperatures were a bit cooler than earlier in the week, with highs expected in the low 80s.

More than 2,000 firefighters were battling the fire in the San Rafael Wilderness, which was closed to visitors.

Twenty aircraft and three dozen bulldozers were being used in the fight against the blaze, which was ignited by sparks from a grinding machine being used to repair water pipes.

In Northern California, a wildfire near the Oregon border spread, with more than 300 homes in and around Happy Camp still threatened by the lightning-sparked blaze.

The fire in the Klamath National Forest started on July 10 and had burned more than 6,900 acres by Tuesday, but authorities said improving weather conditions were aiding firefighters as a light drizzle started to fall.

"With the winds down and the humidity up, that really helps firefighters do some catching up," said Rebeca Franco, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Nearly 1,200 firefighters were working to contain the fire, which was about 15 percent surrounded.

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