Governor Schwarzenegger surveys the Tea Fire damage along Westmont Rd.
Paul Wellman

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that some mandatory evacuation notices had been lifted. This is apparently incorrect.

The shift has been made from suppressing the Tea Fire and ensuring people’s safety to a recovery process, Sheriff Bill Brown announced at a press conference this morning.

The shift comes at the beginning of the third day of the Tea Fire, which has so far burned 1,800 acres and is now considered about 40 percent contained. The announcement comes after an extremely successful night, which saw no major shift of the fire and weather conditions that aided firefighter’s efforts.

Though it is already hot outside today, fire officials are cautiously optimistic about what the day will hold. Winds have died down, but much of the area affected by the fire hasn’t burned in at least 20 years, meaning there’s plenty of fuel yet to be burned in the form of dry brush. The focus for the day is expected to be controlling the northern portion of the fire and keeping it from spreading into Mission Canyon on the west and Hot Springs on the east. The south end of the fire is holding, with crews still in the area. “The fire narrowed very quickly,” County Fire Chief John Scherrei said. “That was our objective.” Today, crews will be putting out hot spots, surveying the damage, and attempting to get some people back in their homes, he said.

The press conference at Earl Warren Showgrounds was buoyed by an appearance by Govenor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who earlier in the day had toured a fire-swept neighborhood near Westmont where several homes had been lost. The fire has destroyed 111 homes and damaged nine residential structures. Roughly 5,400 homes and 15,000 residents have been evacuated by the fire, which still threatens 1,500 residents.

Governor Schwarzenegger walks through the ruins of a house on Westmont Rd.
Paul Wellman

Schwarzenegger, who on Friday declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County, said the state will be helping people put their lives back together by working with them to get loans. The state will also pay for the majority of the firefighting costs, which so far are estimated to be about $3.5 million.

“My family and I have come many, many times to the Santa Barbara area,” said Schwarzenegger, who recently bought property in Carpinteria. “We think it’s the most beautiful area. But the area we walked around today looked like hell.”

The cause of the fire, which began around 5:45 p.m. Thursday near the Tea Gardens in Montecito, is still under investigation. Investigators know the area where the fire started, but no real information has been released as to the cause.

There are 2,235 firefighters assigned to the Tea Fire, although some resources are expected to leave to help with another fire in Los Angeles. Nine helicopters are assigned to the fire, no more fixed wing aircraft are dousing the flames, and there are 193 engines in the hills.


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