California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County, Calif., as firefighters have been unable to control a wildfire that has already damaged at least 100 homes and injured 13 people.
"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," Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Ron Prince told reporters. "Control of this fire is not even in sight."
Flames ripped through multimillion-dollar mansions Thursday evening in the upscale Southern California community of Montecito and tore through neighboring Santa Barbara County today.
This morning, Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Wallace described the fire to ABC's "Good Morning America".
"It's definitely out of control. We don't have containment on any of the lines," he said.
"We had winds blowing up there at that elevation at around 60 mph," he added later. "We've had dry fuels all summer. Mother Nature basically took over."
Scores of water-dropping helicopters took off at daybreak after they'd been grounded overnight by high winds and heavy smoke that had spread into downtown Santa Barbara.
Four people were injured and about 5,400 of the community's 14,000 residents were evacuated, and more were expected possibly to be forced to flee today.
Firefighters battled the fast-moving blaze that broke out around 6 p.m. Thursday and had spread to about 2,500 acres as of this morning.
The fire destroyed not only homes but several buildings on the campus of Westmont College. Wallace told "GMA" the students had been safely evacuated to the gymnasium, where they could see the physics building burning.
"You could see a really bright light, a red scarlet light in the sky that looked like the fire was 10 feet away," said Sarah Shasberger, a Westmont student.
A total of 13 people have been injured, including two firefighters who suffered smoke inhalation, and two residents were hospitalized with substantial burns, officials told The Associated Press.
Wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour whipped into the canyon Thursday night, causing the fire to rage out of control almost immediately.
Firefighters call them sundowner winds, and they destroyed dozens of homes in a matter of hours.
The fire was moving toward the more densely populated neighborhoods in Santa Barbara, and about 500 firefighters were aggressively working to push back the blaze. Fire officials said if the winds didn't calm down today, the results could be catastrophic.
Mary-Louise Scully, an infectious disease doctor and Santa Barbara resident, found her home reduced to ashes. She told ABC's Lisa Fletcher that she had just moments to grab what she should before evacuating.
"I did get the animals out, but there wasn't time at that point [to grab more]," she said. "The ridge was on fire and I left."
She walked through the smoldering remains of a lifetime of memories, hoping that some of her family's most important possessions made it through the fire.
"I've been crying most of the night and the day as we watched. I don't think it's quite until you see it that now it's hitting home," she said.
Fire Close to Hollywood Celeb Houses
Some residents stayed in their homes, determined to put up a fight to save some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
"We are going to keep on watering our house to keep the fire from taking our house too," one woman said.
Montecito is home to several big Hollywood players, such as Steven Spielberg, Rob Lowe, Christopher Lloyd and Oprah Winfrey, who owns a 42-acre property there.
"It is not threatening Oprah Winfrey's place at all. It is not burning in that direction," said Curtis Vincent, the public information officer of the Montecito Fire Department.
It wasn't just the rich who were burned out. Kelly Voysan, a construction worker who had worked on many of the luxury homes, returned to smoking rubble.
"There wasn't any time for an evacuation," said Voysan. "All there was was fire engines roaring up the street saying get out of here. And we left and this is what I came back to."
Experts say it has been unseasonably warm in Southern California, but it is the time of year for hot Santa Ana winds.
"This is the beginning of the Santa Ana season," said Dr.William Patzert, scientist at the California Institute of Technology. "It's the first large Santa Ana event, and it's definitely frightening."