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Fire and destruction in Santa Barbara County

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Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times

A home burns in Montecito last night

Today Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County as a massive out-of-control wildfire rages through some wealthy and exclusive neighborhoods. The fire kicked-up last night around 6 p.m. in the Tea House Garden area in the foothills of Montecito. Sundowner winds in the area reached up to 70 miles an hour — destroying at least 100 homes and forcing more than five thousand people to evacuate. 

Montecito is a favorite of the rich and famous. Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe, Michael Douglas are just a few of the celebrities who own property there. So far, none of their homes have been damaged.

Overnight, more than a thousand students and faculty were forced to hunker down in a fire-proof gym on the Westmont College campus. Several buildings and faculty homes were lost, but the gym was not touched by the fire.

The wildfire started with around 300 acres. Today the fire has grown to an estimated 2,500 acres. Hundreds of firefighters are battling the blaze in hand-to-hand combat on the ground. Helicopters and other aircraft are fighting the flames from the air.

More than a dozen people have been injured, at least two with burns. One man was arrested in the fire zone, but it was not in connection with arson. Officials say they don’t know what started this wildfire. Right now, they say the priority is “public safety.”

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