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Santa Ana Winds Fuel Raging California Wildfire

Santa Ana Winds Fuel Raging California Wildfire

Threaten Celebrity Homes and Westmont College

State College, Pa. -- November 14, 2008 -- reports the Santa Ana winds that developed on Thursday and will continue into Sunday have fueled a raging wildfire that has destroyed at least 100 homes in a celebrity enclave near Montecito, Calif.

The winds began on Thursday as high pressure built over the Intermountain West. By Thursday night, the winds known locally as "sundowners" were gusting to as high as 70 mph through the canyons and passes of Southern California.

The winds fed the "Tea Fire" that broke out Thursday evening in the foothills of Montecito, just southeast of Santa Barbara. Associated Press and Fox News Channel report that by this morning, the fast-moving blaze has destroyed as many as 100 luxury homes and parts of a college campus.

A number of celebrities own homes in the exclusive enclave, including Michael Douglas, Rob Lowe and Oprah Winfrey. Barbara County spokeswoman Nicole Koon told reports that bout 5,400 homes in the tony community of 14,000 residents were evacuated and more people could be forced to flee if the fire spreads.

Flames destroyed several buildings at Westmont College, where hundreds of students fled to the gym, spending the night sleeping on the floor.

As West Coast Expert Meteorologist Ken Clark said on Wednesday, "The combination of unseasonably warm temperatures, low humidity and the winds will make for an extended period of high fire danger that is likely from Friday morning through Sunday afternoon." Meteorologist Dave Samuhel commented in a video interview today that the Santa Ana winds are localized events. The offshore winds accelerate to hurricane speeds as they funnel through the canyons and passes, while the winds are non-existent in nearby areas at lower elevations.


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