With a heat wave continuing to bake California and the rest of the West, wildfires forced nearly 8,000 people to dash for safety Sunday as flames destroyed homes and threatened thousands of structures across the state.

Along the Central Coast, firefighters battled two major blazes on opposite ends of Santa Barbara County. Efforts Sunday focused on protecting mountain peaks that hold crucial communication and electrical infrastructure, including a high-voltage line that carries power to Santa Barbara and neighboring cities.

The Alamo fire, near Highway 166 in northern Santa Barbara County, was the largest active fire in California and was 15% contained after burning more than 37 square miles as of Sunday evening, according to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. At least 200 people were forced to evacuate a remote area east of Santa Maria, and about 1,000 firefighters from Los Angeles and across the state rushed to help control the flames, Cal Fire said.

About 35 miles to the south in Santa Barbara County, more than 3,500 people have fled the Whittier fire near Lake Cachuma, which was burning just north of Goleta. The blaze scorched just over 12 square miles and burned 20 structures on both sides of Highway 154, according to officials with Los Padres National Forest.

That fire, which started about 2 p.m. Saturday, initially trapped some 80 campers at the Circle V Ranch Camp. But U.S. Forest Service firefighters reached the group later that day, said Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

On Sunday, firefighters were aided by slightly lower temperatures — nearby Santa Ynez saw a high of 91, compared to 106 on Saturday — and favorable winds blowing in from the Pacific that halted the fire’s spread downhill toward Goleta. The blaze was moving east and west along the Santa Ynez Mountains into areas that were badly burned by two wildfires in the last decade, limiting the available fuel.

“It will act as a good buffer,” said Jim Harris, deputy fire chief for Los Padres National Forest.

Harris said the firefighting effort in Santa Barbara County is in need of additional ”hotshot” fire crews with the kind of rugged engines that can navigate the steep dirt terrain where the fire is burning on the south-facing mountain slopes.

A third blaze in the Central Coast, the Stone fire, ignited Sunday just before 2 p.m. about 30 miles east of Morro Bay, according to Cal Fire’s unit in San Luis Obispo County. The fire quickly grew to 340 acres and threatened numerous structures, and was just 10% contained Sunday evening, officials said.

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Source: Los Angeles Times