Fires Rage Near Santa Barbara, Parts of the Southwest Battle Blazes

In Santa Barbara, trees and lands that hadn't burned in decades fueled the fire.

— -- The mountains north of Santa Barbara in California are currently a fragile tinderbox as the Sherpa Fire continues to burn free and fast.

The fire had grown to 1,200 acres of land, with 0 percent contained, according to authorities with Santa Barbara County Fire. Some of the fuel feeding the fire included 100-year-old oaks and patches of land that had not burned in 60 years.

Nearly 500 firefighters raced to control the blaze and protect homes. The fire started Wednesday afternoon and spread rapidly overnight because of strong winds, authorities said. Nearly 400 families were evacuated. Beaches north of Santa Barbara were closed. Campers were forced out of the area.

Pat Brown, owner of the Circle Bar B Ranch, opted to stay.

"We're at the mercy of the weather. This is rough country," Brown told ABC's Los Angeles station KABC-TV. "I could tell right away it was a bad situation. ... This is my family's place. ... It's my life."

Across the Southwest, already sweating through increasingly high temperatures, fires threatened residents and their homes.

In Arizona, the Cedar Creek Fire has grown to 8,000 acres, the U.S. Forest Service said. Officials warned that some communities might face evacuations. The thick smoke led residents like Janice Elmore to get their children out of the area.

"When it started and the wind was really bad, it was raining ash," she said. "It was falling out of the sky. ... It's pretty scary."

And a state of emergency was declared due to the Dog Head Fire in New Mexico, which triggered mandatory evacuations in some counties.

"The wind came again and started kicking up so then you get nervous again because you don't know where it's going," resident Nanette Martos told ABC affiliate KOAT-TV. "It's nerve-wracking."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.