Rural Santa Barbara County Blaze Surges Overnight

Firefighters battling a six-week-old wildfire burning in rural Santa Barbara County struggled to contain the blaze as it surged across some 13 square miles of arid brush overnight, officials said Monday.

The fire's ferocious push chewed through densely forested wilderness area already within anticipated containment lines.

Firefighting efforts were expected to be hampered by triple-digit temperatures and low humidity predicted throughout the week, fire spokesman Joe Pasinato said.

"We'll most likely see some very aggressive fire behavior on the northeast side of the fire," Pasinato said. "Firefighters are predicting a very active day."

The fire, burning in the Dick Smith Wilderness and Los Padres National Forest, has consumed about 148 square miles, he said.

Columns of smoke were visible from Bakersfield some 90 miles away and along the coast in the city of Santa Barbara, nearly 30 miles from the fire, officials said.

The blaze was 44 percent contained, down from 68 percent the previous day, Pasinato said. The fire's anticipated full containment date remained unchanged at Sept. 7.

"What we're doing is looking at a much larger area due to the increase in acreage last night," he said.

Fire officials could light a backfire along the blaze's growing northeast flank to remove fuel from its path, Pasinato said.

Similar controlled burns kept the fire from intruding deeply into a sparsely populated area south of the main burn area, he said.

The evacuation order in those areas - which include the Paradise Road community and Los Prietos Boys Camp - was downgraded Sunday night to an evacuation warning, officials said.

More than 2,700 firefighters were battling the blaze, which has cost $66.7 million since it was ignited by sparks from equipment used to repair a water pipe on July 4.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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