Santa Barbara wildfire now 75 percent contained

Santa Barbara wildfire now 75 percent contained
Firefighters and a fixed-wing aircraft battle a wildfire in the Painted Cave area of Santa Barbara, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/The News-Press, Mike Eliason)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters Thursday worked to surround a wildfire that briefly threatened 100 homes in rugged hillsides north of Santa Barbara.

The 44-acre blaze was 75 percent contained. Fourteen aircraft were helping ground crews battle remaining areas of flame in rocky, chaparral-covered foothills about 10 miles north of the scenic coastal town, authorities said.

The fire erupted Wednesday near Highway 154 in the same Painted Cave area where a 1990 blaze killed one person and burned about 550 homes.

About 100 homes, ranging from cabins to more substantial houses, were threatened at the afternoon height of the blaze and about 40 of the homes were evacuated. However, the residents were allowed to return just a few hours later as firefighters used an aggressive air and ground attack to gain a foothold amid calmer-than-expected winds.

One firefighter suffered a minor leg injury.

The National Weather Service predicted only light winds for Thursday.

At the height of the fire, a dense plume of grayish-white smoke hovered over the steep hills and a line of flame snaked through a canyon.

Air tankers painted the flames with orange-red fire retardant, and firefighters armed with hoses made stands near homes.

The cause of the fire was unknown, but some power lines were down in the area, fire officials said.

Ganga White, founder and director of the nonprofit White Lotus Foundation yoga retreat, said he saw the fire erupt across the street, apparently from a downed power line.

The flames were 50 feet high but heading away from the retreat, where 35 people were attending a training session for yoga teachers, he said.

The retreat was not evacuated.

The area, about 75 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, is known as a fire hazard, especially when "sundowner" winds begin to blow through the canyons toward the ocean in the afternoon.