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Fire threatens rural homes near Santa Barbara

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A wildfire burning in Los Padres National Forest, north of Santa Barbara in Goleta, Calif. The Santa Barbara County Sheriffs Office says mandatory evacuations have been ordered for Refugio Canyon, Venadito Canyon and Las Flores Canyon, which includes an Exxonmobil refinery.

GOLETA, Calif. >> A wildfire burning Wednesday night in brushy canyons north of Santa Barbara threatened rural homes and forced the evacuation of a refinery.

The blaze broke out about 3:30 p.m. in Los Padres National Forest and by nightfall surged to 250 acres.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Refugio Canyon, Venadito Canyon and Las Flores Canyon, which includes an ExxonMobil refinery, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said.

About a dozen homes are threatened but are being protected, and the oil refinery has a cleared buffer zone around it, county fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.

ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler said the company has evacuated non-essential employees, and those that remain are there to help with fire protection.

“Our primary concern is for the safety of our employees, contractors and the environment,” Spitler said.

The area’s Sundowner winds gusting to nearly 40 mph are pushing it through canyons full of heavy brush. A dangerous wind advisory was in effect until 6 a.m. Thursday, though the gusts are expected to diminish somewhat as the night goes on.

The fire is moving downhill but it’s miles from a neighboring freeway and beach communities.

One family at the popular El Capitan State Beach, where campers have been told to be ready to evacuate but have not been told they need to yet, decided to leave while it was easy.

“It’s completely smoked out up there so we decided to take the kids and get out of there,” Ted Bayard told KEYT-TV from his driver’s seat. “We decided instead of waiting until 10 o’clock tonight we’d get out before the sun went down.”

About 50 horses were evacuated from a ranch and taken to a shelter that has been set up at the county fairgrounds.

About 200 firefighters and a dozen aircraft, including DC-10 tankers, have been called in.

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