Wildfire rages in California celebrity enclave

Fri Nov 14, 2008 3:51pm EST
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By Dan Whitcomb

MONTECITO, California (Reuters) - A wind-driven brush fire in Southern California roared through exclusive estates in the celebrity seaside enclave of Montecito, injuring 13 people and gutting well over 100 homes, authorities said on Friday.

In the area dubbed "America's Riviera," those reported to have lost their homes included actor Christopher Lloyd, best known as the zany scientist in the "Back to the Future" movies. But talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and actor Rob Lowe said they had been spared for the time being.

The fire erupted on Thursday evening and charred at least 2,000 acres overnight, blazing through entire blocks of mansions in the community 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's governor, declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County, putting additional state resources at the disposal of local fire departments.

Firefighters were largely powerless to stop the destruction overnight as gusts howling at 70 mph fanned the flames in the foothills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

"Mother Nature basically took over," Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Wallace told a news conference.

Winds died down after sunrise but were expected to kick up again later on Friday, leaving some 650 firefighters a brief opportunity to gain some ground.

"We're going to have a tough day ahead. Control of this fire is not even in sight," said Don Prince, fire chief of the neighboring city of Santa Barbara. "We're not out of the woods by any stretch."   Continued...

<p>A ruptured gas line burns in front of a large estate as firefighters work to contain a wildfire which has destroyed over 100 homes in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara County, California, November 14, 2008. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>