5/06/09 8:26 p.m.

The Jesusita Fire took a turn for the worse this afternoon, spreading rapidly and burning at least five homes.

Sundowner winds picked up in the early evening, forcing firefighting helicopters from the sky and pushing the blaze toward more houses. Although the county has not confirmed how many homes have been lost, two firefighters suffered burn injuries today and were airlifted out of the area.

The Governor declared a state of emergency earlier this evening, clearing the way for more state aid.

At least 8,000 people have left their homes and a county spokesman called it one of the largest evacuations the city or county has ever seen. However, a county spokesman would not estimate how many acres have burned, noting that their priorities are saving people and property.

Approximately 80 evacuees were at the Red Cross center at Dos Pueblo High School this evening, and a Daily Nexus reporter on the scene said more were coming in.

The Santa Barbara Independent has reported that part of the Botanical Gardens have burned and that employees at the Natural History museum were moving artifacts into fire proof safes.

5/06/09 3:15 p.m.

More than 800 firefighters are now on the scene, according to county officials.

There has also been one reported minor injury, however no structures have burned. As of an hour ago the acreage burned remained at around 196.

A Daily Nexus photographer on the scene said that he had seen sporadic flare-ups and that the wind appeared to be growing stronger.

— Staff Report

5/06/09 11:25 a.m.

UPDATE: New reports indicate that the fire is smaller than officials believed. Authorities now say that the blaze has only consumed approximately 196 acres.

Winds died down last evening, but officials fear that tonight’s sundowner winds could exacerbate the fire — gusts are expected to be up to 50-55 mph.

Authorities still do not have an estimated time until containment.

As of this morning, 200 firemen, four fixed wing aircraft and six helicopters are battling the blaze.

–Staff Report

5/06/09 12:00 a.m.

Flames broke out in San Roque Canyon at 1:45 p.m. this afternoon and, as of midnight, have since burned over 420 acres of the hills above Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara County Director of Emergency has declared the blaze – which has been dubbed the Jesusita Fire – a local emergency.

The city of Santa Barbara issued mandatory evacuations around 4 p.m. for all of San Roque and Mission Canyons and closed Foothill Road from Highway 154 to Mission Canyon Road. La Cumbre Road north of State Street also has been served an evacuation warning. As of press time, no buildings had burned, but flames were reported within a mile of the closest structure.

Firefighting efforts have been hindered by changing winds – which reached speeds of 25 to 30 mph near the fire, with gusts approaching 50 mph – that shifted the direction of the flames. Over 70 fire engines and 14 strike teams were last reported at the scene of the fire, and assistance from other Southern California fire departments was requested.

Adrianne Nunez, a UCSB aluma and evacuee from Lucina Lane near Foothill Road evacuated with her family to a friend’s house. Nunez said she was especially prepared for the fire since she and her husband had to evacuate during the Tea Fire earlier this year.

“I’m happy that we were prepared, we evacuated during the Tea Fire so [my husband and I] are already organized,” Nunez said. “Everything is already in plastic containers, we just shoveled them out to the car. We are only taking things that are irreplaceable; we’re taking mainly mementos, papers and videos of the kids when they were young. My husband is wetting down the roof; we have an old roof so it’s a good thing to do.”

Nunez said that the response to the Jesusita Fire felt sluggish in comparison with the Tea Fire.

“I felt like they were slower in responding this time,” she said. “It seemed like it took a long time to get the aircrafts out. They are filling up at the reservoir. They knew the [Tea Fire region] would be a problem – it wasn’t an ‘if’; it was a ‘when’. I think people’s guards were down.”

Barbara Murray, an eight-year resident of the San Roque Canyon area said family and friends called to warn her of the events as they unfolded on local news stations.

“I didn’t notice the fire at first,” Murray said. “I was on the computer and my neighbors were calling me, but I was ignoring the calls. I finally got a call from my son, and I looked out and saw the smoke.”

Shortly after receiving a reverse call from local emergency services, Murray resolved to take her pets and evacuate her residence.

“We are going to a friend’s house,” Murray said. “We had a friend staying with us whose home was burned in the Tea Fire, and she already packed her things and left. We are packed and ready to go.”

Administration officials are already preparing resources to aid those in the community likely to be affected by the fire. Associate Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Ron Cortez said the university’s emergency committee met this evening to discuss the fire and how it may affect students and faculty.

“In the past, when we’ve had fires such as the Tea Fire and the Gap Fire, normally we are affected by intermittent outages of power,” Cortez said.

However, according to Southern California Edison, outages have only been temporary so far and have not hit UCSB.

The Jesusita Fire is the third of its kind to rip through the Santa Barbara area in the past 12 months. November’s Tea Fire destroyed over 200 homes, while the Gap Fire over the summer burned almost 10,000 acres. Today’s fire has affected the acres of canyon between the two previously burned areas.

The American Red Cross has established an evacuation center for residents affected by the fire at the Dos Pueblos High School, located at 7266 Alameda Ave. in Goleta.