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Santa Barbara Fire Stalls as Gusty Winds Ease

— Calmer winds and an overnight attack by water-dropping helicopters kept a wildfire from advancing early Wednesday in the hills above Santa Barbara, authorities said. However, the blaze still threatened 2,000 homes and forecasters said the breezes could turn to gusts later in the day.

The fire had burned a total of 196 acres of brush, said Fire Chief Tom Franklin, adding the flames had "laid down quite a bit" overnight.

An earlier estimate of about 400 acres burned was inaccurate, he said.

No homes had been lost, but flames were about a half-mile from the nearest dwellings. The National Weather Service forecast winds gusting to 40 mph or more by late morning

About a dozen helicopters and aircraft were attacking the blaze, concentrating on its southern flank to protect neighborhoods in the Mission Canyon area.

"It's going to be mostly an air show today," Franklin said.

Fire engines were "sitting at homes, waiting for the fire to come down," he added.

The fire began Tuesday afternoon in the foothills above San Roque Canyon and quickly spread. The cause was not known, officials said.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for neighborhoods spanning an area about 2½ miles wide, officials said. About 1,200 of the 2,000 threatened homes were evacuated.

An evacuation center was set up at a high school in Goleta. At least five schools were scheduled to be closed Wednesday.

Santa Barbara's neighborhoods rise up the foothills of the rugged Santa Ynez Mountains and Los Padres National Forest. Part of State Route 192 was closed in the area.

The fire erupted less than six months after a wind-driven 2,000-acre blaze destroyed more than 200 homes in Santa Barbara and neighboring Montecito.

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