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Homeless blamed for fire

UPDATE: 6:45 p.m.

A cooking fire at a homeless encampment sparked a wildfire last week that destroyed six homes in the Bel Air neighbourhood of Los Angeles, authorities said Tuesday, while the fifth-largest wildfire in California history burning northwest of the city kept expanding and kept thousands out of their homes.

They are among a half-dozen fires that flared in Southern California last week and were driven by fiercely gusting Santa Ana winds.

Arson investigators determined that the Bel Air fire near the world-famous Getty museum was started by an illegal fire at a camp near a freeway underpass, city fire Capt. Erik Scott said.

The camp was empty when firefighters found it but people apparently had been sleeping and cooking there for at least several days, he said.

Northwest of Los Angeles, firefighters protected foothill homes while the fire grew mostly into forest land, Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said.

Red Flag warnings for fire danger due to Santa Ana winds and a critical lack of moisture were extended into the week, with a possible increase in gusts Thursday into Friday.

Tens of thousands of people remain evacuated, including many from the seaside enclaves of Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria and the inland agricultural town of Fillmore.

Still among evacuees due to smoke Tuesday were Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Eric Burdon and his wife, Marianna, of Ojai. Last week, Burdon wrote on Facebook about having to flee and returning temporarily to find their home still standing with ashes all around.

"A week like this gives you the perspective that life is what truly matters," he wrote.

Officials handed out masks to those who stayed behind in Montecito, an exclusive community about 75 miles (120 kilometres) from Los Angeles that's home to stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges and Drew Barrymore. Actor Rob Lowe was among residents who evacuated over the weekend.

The blaze — known as the Thomas Fire — has destroyed more than 680 homes, officials said. It was just partially contained after burning more than 360 square miles (930 square kilometres) of dry brush and timber. The fire has been burning for more than a week.


ORIGINAL STORY  7:48 a.m.

The fifth largest wildfire in California history expanded, ripping through dry brush atop a coastal ridge while crews struggled to keep flames from roaring down into neighbourhoods amid fears of renewed winds.

Firefighters protected foothill homes northwest of Los Angeles, making progress in residential areas while much of the fire's growth occurred to the north in unoccupied forest land, Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said Tuesday.

"There were a couple of flare-ups in the hills that put on a light show last night, but they were expected. For now the teams are fighting the fire on their own terms," he said, adding that shifting winds are always a danger.

Red Flag warnings for fire danger due to Santa Ana winds and a critical lack of moisture were extended into the week instead of expiring Monday afternoon as was initially forecast.



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