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Wind Delays Containment Of Calif. Wildfire

Firefighters are making gains on the wildfire that has been burning in Santa Barbara for more than a week.

Officials say the fire, which charred 8,733 acres and destroyed 80 homes, was 90 percent contained as of Thursday.

But investigators say they remain concerned about winds that could reach 65 mph, possibly re-igniting smoldering embers into flames. The winds could push the fire into an area in the hills to the northeast of the city, where homes on 45 property parcels remain threatened. Those homes were evacuated last week and more than 100 residents have not been allowed to return.

The winds could delay full containment until next Wednesday.

Wind gusts reached 45 mph in the Montecito hills Wednesday evening and humidity dropped, forecasters said.

Wind warnings were in effect until Thursday morning, with temperatures to reach the 80s in the foothills.

"We are on full alert, expecting that the disaster and our preparedness will continue," said Santa Barbara County emergency operations center spokesman Harry Hagen.

The fire started on May 5 and has blackened 8,733 acres, destroyed 80 homes, damaged 15 and injured 29 firefighters. Investigators said it may have been caused by someone clearing brush with a power tool.

The blaze has been essentially static through days of cooler, humid weather marked by morning coastal fog.

The fire has been contained in the most populated areas. About 30,000 people were forced from their homes during the firefight and thousands more were warned to be ready to go. Most evacuation orders were lifted late last week and residents of an additional 100 homes were allowed to return Wednesday.

"The area that's left to contain is the most difficult ... extremely steep and very tall brush," said county fire Capt. David Sadecki. "The crews that are in there are having a very difficult time."