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Crews gain on wildfires

Southern California firefighters on Wednesday continued working to contain the fifth largest fire in the state's history but warned that some communities are still at risk and could be in greater danger if unpredictable winds whip up again and fan the flames.

Warnings of ideal conditions for wildfires were extended because of Santa Ana winds and lack of moisture, with a possible increase in wind gust speeds at the end of the week.

Evacuations continued for the seaside enclaves of Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria and the inland agricultural town of Fillmore.

Officials announced Tuesday night that crews had carved containment lines around one-quarter of the blaze straddling Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, northwest of Los Angeles.

The so-called Thomas fire has burned over 900 buildings, at least 700 of them homes, since it broke out Dec. 4. It stretches across nearly 370 square miles (958 square kilometres) of Southern California.

Elsewhere, fire officials announced that a cooking fire at a homeless encampment sparked a blaze last week that destroyed six homes in the exclusive Bel Air neighbourhood of Los Angeles.

Arson investigators determined that the so-called Skirball 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.

At the largest of the fires northwest of Los Angeles, firefighters protected foothill homes while the flames churned mostly into unoccupied forest land, Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said.



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