Los Angeles (AFP) - Hundreds of California firefighters on Tuesday battled a wind-driven brushfire that grew out of control overnight near Santa Barbara, threatening thousands of homes and prompting evacuation orders.
The so-called "Cave Fire" that started on Monday in Los Padres National Forest, grew to nearly 4,300 acres (1,740 hectares) overnight as it moved toward populated areas in the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta and nearby communities about a two hours' drive north of Los Angeles.
Some 600 firefighters were battling the blaze that prompted evacuation orders for about 2,300 homes, or nearly 5,500 people.
Fire officials said helicopters and fixed-wing planes were assisting the firefighters who faced steep, rugged terrain.
"The Cave Fire is burning under some of the toughest firefighting conditions anywhere in the world," said Los Padres National Forest Fire Chief Jimmy Harris.
"We’ve experienced several offshore wind events at this point, and that has just dried the fuel bed out to the point where we're seeing the fire behavior we saw last night."
He said the blaze was all the more challenging for firefighters as high winds were pushing the flames downhill and then back uphill.
Authorities said the fire, the cause of which was unknown, was zero percent contained by midday Tuesday but they were hopeful that a storm set to arrive in the area later in the day would help extinguish the flames.
While the rain could bring much-needed relief for firefighters, officials warned that it may also prompt flash floods and debris flows.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said that about 4,000 people who were forced to evacuate would be allowed back into their homes Tuesday afternoon.
The blaze comes on the heels of a series of major fires that erupted in the state last month destroying homes and vineyards and forcing thousands of people to flee.