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Santa Barbara fire threatens homes as crews struggle to corral flames in California

Santa Barbara fire threatens homes as crews struggle to corral flames in California

Firefighters from the Lompoc City Fire Department take shelter behind their engine June 16, 2016, as wind-driven flames advance from the Sherpa Fire. The flames were crossing Calle Real near El Capitan State Park in Santa Barbara County, California.

GOLETA, Calif. -- Fueled by hot and dry weather, the Santa Barbara fire threatened homes as crews struggled to corral flames that have scorched miles of brush and timber in California and other Western states.

About 140 homes and ranches were considered at risk in California, where a 1,400-acre fire was tearing through coastal canyons west of Santa Barbara, scorching an area that hadn't burned in 60 years.

Authorities dubbed it the Sherpa Fire because it erupted near Sherpa Ranch, CBS Los Angeles reports.

The chaparral was "very dry, very dead-on-the-ground fuel for the fire," said Gina DePinto, communications manager for Santa Barbara County.

Flames from the "Sherpa Fire" 20 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, California, are seen in the distance on June 16, 2016.

About 800 firefighters struggled to reach the narrow, brush-choked coastal canyons to attack the flames. A fleet of aircraft had better luck Thursday but nightfall brought a rise in gusty, erratic "sundowner" winds that had pushed the blaze Wednesday night.

Fire officials said early Friday that the blaze had calmed a bit after surging Thursday night.

For a second night, a freeway, U.S. 101, was closed in the area.

Hundreds of people were forced from campgrounds after the fire erupted Wednesday.

Charlie and Elizabeth Hatten spent the night at a shelter after a park ranger woke them as they camped at El Capitan State Beach.

"The flames looked so close. You couldn't see the moon anymore," Charlie Hatten told the Los Angeles Times.

CBS Los Angeles reporter Tom Wait said things got so dicey by the beach that firefighters and police told reporters to leave, warning they'd be cited if they didn't.

The "wall of fire" at times "looked like a fire tornado, a vortex of flames crossing through the hillside," Wait said. "It was very, very frightening."

The campgrounds remained closed but fire officials said nobody remained at the shelters Thursday.

In central New Mexico, a blaze that began Tuesday spread across 16,000 acres by Thursday night, forcing evacuations and burning several buildings along the way. The fire blackened 25 square miles and blanketed Albuquerque, the state's largest city, in a thick haze.

The fire was expected to continue moving east and northeast and posed an imminent threat to the small community of Chilili, the Tajique area, and the Ponderosa Pine residential area, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez took to the air in a National Guard helicopter on Thursday to look over the devastation, according to a report in the Albuquerque Journal.

"This is a serious fire," Martinez said later during a news conference at an Estancia school, where the command center for the firefighters is located. "We want to make sure New Mexicans understand that."

Extremely hot and dry weather was forecast to continue into the weekend, although gusty winds should ease, fire officials said.

In east-central Arizona, progress was made against a 12-square-mile blaze that broke out Wednesday south of Show Low.

"The winds weren't as bad, and the back-burns did exactly what we wanted them to do," Navajo County Sheriff KC Clark said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

However, a small community in Navajo County remained evacuated and thousands of other residents were told to be prepared in case they had to leave.

In Nevada, a 300-acre Reno brush fire that threatened dozens of homes was 75 percent contained and crews were mostly in mop-up mode Thursday evening.

Blazes also threatened homes in Utah, where a firefighter hurt his head in a fall.

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