MONTECITO, Calif. (AP) – Firefighters struggled to get control of a raging wildfire Friday that destroyed more than 100 homes and injured 13 people in this Mediterranean-style coastal town that has been home to celebrities from Charlie Chaplin to Oprah Winfrey.

Firefighters said they had to work fast before the winds picked up. Evening winds known locally as “sundowners,” gusting up to 70 mph from land to sea, pushed the fire with frightening speed Thursday, chewing up mansions, exploding eucalyptus trees and turning rolling hills into a glowing nightmare.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County on Friday as residents waited anxiously for word of their homes. Many of them fled flames with just a few minutes’ notice.

Helicopter pilots worked through the night, using night vision goggles to drop water on the flames. At daybreak Friday, nearly 20 copters and air tankers were on the job, emergency officials said.

On the ground, fire crews stationed in cul-de-sacs engaged in “hand-to-hand combat” with the flames on winding residential roads, said Santa Barbara County Fire Chief John Scherrei.

“We’re going to have a very, very tough day today for firefighting and when the winds kick up this afternoon, we’re going to have an incredibly challenging situation,” said Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Ron Prince. “Control of this fire is not even in sight.”

Authorities say the fire broke out just before 6 p.m. Thursday and spread to about 2,500 acres – nearly 4 square miles – by early Friday. It destroyed dozens of luxury homes and parts of a college campus in the tony community of Montecito and an unknown number of homes in neighboring Santa Barbara. The cause was not immediately known. There was no estimate for containment for the fire, which more than 500 firefighters were battling.

Montecito, a quiet enclave known for its balmy climate and charming Spanish colonial homes, has long attracted celebrities. Oprah Winfrey also owns a home there, though her publicist told the AP she hadn’t been in the area and her home was not destroyed Thursday night. Michael Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, also have a home in the area.

“That whole mountain over there went up at once. Boom,” said Bob McNall, pointing to the black hillside above his home. The 70-year-old said he and his son and grandson used hoses to protect his house and five others, but that firefighters had no chance to contain the blaze Thursday.

“The whole sky was full of embers, there was nothing that (the firefighters) could do. It was just too much,” McNall said.

Meanwhile, about 200 people spent the night at an evacuation center at a high school in nearby Goleta, but rest was out of the question for Ed Naha, a 58-year-old writer who lives in the hills above Santa Barbara.

“I don’t think we are going to have the house when we go back,” Naha said.

“We are used to seeing smoke because we do have fires up here, but I’ve never seen that reddish, hellish glow that close,” he said. “I was waiting for Dante and Virgil to show up.”

Montecito sustained a major fire in 1977, when more than 200 homes burned. A fire in 1964 burned about 67,000 acres and damaged 150 houses and buildings.

The community’s popularity among celebrities goes back nearly a century. The landmark Montecito Inn was built in the 1920s by Charlie Chaplin, and the nearby San Ysidro Ranch was the honeymoon site of John F. Kennedy in 1953.


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