A massive wildfire, fueled by strong winds, rising temperatures and an extended drought, has charred 7,811 acres in Santa Barbara County as firefighters brace for an extreme heatwave threatening to roast the Southwest.
The blaze, dubbed the Sherpa Fire, was 45 percent contained as of 11:30 a.m. Saturday, county officials said.
The weekend forecast suggests firefighters face a tough battle with the warmest weather so far this year. Temperatures in the triple-digits are likely across much of Southern California.
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The South Coast Air Quality Management District declared a local emergency and issued a smoke advisory for Los Angeles and Orange counties in effect through Saturday in response to the fire, over fears that winds could push smoke from the blaze across the area.
About 270 structures remained threatened and at least 300 people were evacuated. One building has already been damaged, and two firefighters suffered minor injuries, fire officials said.
The Sherpa Fire, which is feeding off of brush and tall grass chaparral, began at the top of Refugio Road Wednesday afternoon, 25 miles north of Santa Barbara, near Refugio State Beach and Reagan Ranch.
A nearby ExxonMobil processing facility evacuated some employees Thursday, and those that remained, helped protect the plant against the flames, company spokesman Todd Spitler told The Associated Press. Capt. Dave Zaniboni said the crude refinery has a cleared buffer zone.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered for the areas of Refugio Canyon, Canada del Venadito Canyon, Las Flores Canyon, El Capitan Canyon, El Capitan Ranch, El Capitan State Beach and Canada de la Destiladera. Evacuation warnings are in effect for Las Llagas Canyon, Gato Canyon, Las Varas Canyon, Dos Pueblos Canyon and Eagle Canyon. An evacuation center has been set up at the Wake Center, 300 N. Turnpike Road in Goleta and for large animals at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.
County officials said crews will continue to work on reinforcing containment lines along the 101 Freeway, which may be closed again if the fire is determined to be a hazard to motorists. Calle Real from El Cap to Refugio Road remained closed.
More than 1,900 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, Cal-Fire and Santa Barbara County Fire continue to battle the blaze.
Anyone in the evacuation area needing assistance with animals, including livestock, should call (805) 681-4332.