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story.lead_photo.caption Flames advance on homes Sunday morning in Carpinteria, Calif. New evacuations were ordered in Carpinteria, a seaside city in Santa Barbara County that has been under fire threat for days.

LOS ANGELES -- Southern California residents fled Sunday as wind gusts on the western edge of the state's largest and most destructive wildfire sent the blaze churning through canyons and down hillsides toward coastal towns.

Crews with help from water-dropping aircraft saved several homes as unpredictable gusts sent the blaze churning deeper into foothill areas northwest of Los Angeles.

Their greatest concern was for Carpinteria, a seaside city in Santa Barbara County that has been under fire threat for days. The fire was moving west above the city in an area of very dry vegetation that hasn't burned in about 100 years, said Steve Swindle, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

"The fuels in there are thick and they're dead so they're very receptive to fire," Swindle said.

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Photos by The Associated Press

Authorities issued evacuation orders for parts of Carpinteria and nearby Montecito and urged residents outside the designated areas to prepare to leave.

Fire officials feared that if the fire moved into nearby creek beds, it might create a chimney-like effect, sending the flames roaring along the creek's path.

"The winds are kind of squirrelly right now," said county fire spokesman Mike Eliason. "Some places the smoke is going straight up in the air, and others it's blowing sideways. Depends on what canyon we're in."

Firefighters made a stand Sunday morning at a cluster of homes where flames threatened to sweep through the area, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

The department posted a photo of one residence engulfed in flames before dawn. It's unclear whether other structures burned.

Crews were cutting lines outside the city in an effort to keep flames from further encroachment and "contingency strike teams" were dispatched throughout Carpinteria in case the blaze manages to cross fire lines, said Jude Olivas, a spokesman for the Thomas fire response.

By midmorning Sunday, the fire was burning the Camino Cielo Mountain Range and approaching a school under mandatory evacuation. On its website, the Cate School said it would remain closed until after winter break, according to fire officials.

Southern California Edison officials said Sunday that up to 85,000 customers in Santa Barbara County were without power.

The Santa Barbara Zoo was closed to the public Sunday and its 500 animals confined to their night quarters. The zoo was outside the evacuation area and not in immediate danger, but there was smoke and ash on the 30-acre property.

"We drill for and are prepared for emergencies," zoo Director Nancy McToldridge said on Facebook. "We are taking all precautions to ensure the safety of our animals and our staff."

Firefighters made significant progress Saturday on other fronts of the enormous fire that started Dec. 4 in neighboring Ventura County. Forecasters said Santa Ana winds that whipped fires across the region last week would continue in some areas at least through this evening.

A lack of rain has officials on edge statewide because of parched conditions and no end in sight to the typical fire season.

"This is the new normal," Gov. Jerry Brown warned Saturday after surveying damage from the deadly Ventura fire. "We're about ready to have firefighting at Christmas. This is very odd and unusual."

High fire risk is expected to last into January and the governor and experts said climate change is making it a year-round threat.

Overall, the fires have destroyed nearly 800 homes and other buildings, killed dozens of horses and forced more than 200,000 people to flee flames that have burned over 270 square miles since Dec. 4. One death, so far, a 70-year-old woman who crashed her car on an evacuation route, is attributed to the fire in Santa Paula, a small city where the fire began.

The Ventura County blaze continued to burn into rugged mountains in the Los Padres National Forest near the little town of Ojai and toward a preserve established for endangered California condors.

Ojai experienced hazardous levels of smoke at times and officials warned of unhealthy air for large swaths of the region. The South Coast Air Quality Management District urged residents to stay indoors if possible and avoid vigorous outdoor activities.

As fires burned in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, firefighters were already in place north of San Diego on Thursday when a major fire broke out and rapidly spread in the Fallbrook area, known for its avocado groves and horse stables in the rolling hills.

The fire swept through the San Luis Rey Training Facility, where it killed more than 40 elite thoroughbreds and destroyed more than 100 homes -- most of them in a retirement community. Three people were burned trying to escape the fire that continued to smolder Sunday.

Most of last week's fires were in places that burned in the past, including one in the ritzy Los Angeles neighborhood of Bel-Air that burned six homes and another in the city's rugged foothills above the community of Sylmar and in Santa Paula.

Information for this article was contributed by Christopher Weber, Elliot Spagat, Brian Melley and Robert Jablon of The Associated Press; and by Melissa Etehad, Ruben Vives And Harriet Ryan of Tribune News Service.

A Section on 12/11/2017

Print Headline: More Californians fleeing flames

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