Smoke rises from a wildfire burning long the mountains north of Santa Barbara, Calif Monday, May 27, 2013. (Valerie Walston/Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue/AP Photo)

Thousands Evacuated as 'White Fire' Explodes in Size Near Santa Barbara

Wind gusts of up to 60 mph are expected in the area Tuesday night.

Smoke rises from a wildfire burning long the mountains north of Santa Barbara, Calif Monday, May 27, 2013. (Valerie Walston/Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue/AP Photo)
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A menacing blaze named the "White Fire" by authorities started Monday afternoon near Santa Barbara, Calif., and grew to approximately 1,800 acres Tuesday morning, threatening homes as high winds fan its flames.

The task of extinguishing the wildfire is being coordinated by the U.S. Forest Service with assistance from local fire and police departments. A spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection explained to U.S. News the inferno is a "federal fire" because it's primarily affecting federal land.

It's unclear what started the fire, but it flared up at approximately 2:45 p.m. local time Monday, according to information posted to the website of the Incident Information System, an interagency emergency resource.

The 1,800-acre fire is just 10 percent contained, according to the interagency site, and is currently threatening 50 homes, nearly a half-dozen commercial properties and 50 other structures.

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As many as 6,000 people have been evacuated from the area, according to Kelly Hoover, a public information officer at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office.

"Many of them were there for the day," Hoover told U.S. News. "It's a very popular area." About 500 of the evacuees were multi-day campers, 50 to 75 were local residents and the rest were people visiting for Memorial Day.

The fire is named after the picnic area where it began, the White Rock Day Use area. A webpage for the area says it has "[m]any oak trees. 27 picnic sites. Flush toilets, barbecues, tables [and] garbage bins."

Cooking fires at the site are "only permitted in the day use area" and not "along the river."

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a Thursday letter urging caution ahead of the holiday weekend that "[w]ith one of the driest winters on record, officials have already seen a drastic increase in fires."

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"In an average year, by late May CAL FIRE responds to approximately 850 wildfires," the letter said. "Already this year, CAL FIRE has responded to nearly 1,600 wildfires; that number is up 50 [percent] from last year at this time, when there were just under 1,050 wildfires."

The National Weather Service issued a "high wind warning" Tuesday for southern Santa Barbara County, forecasting winds of 15 to 25 mph with gusts of up to 55 mph in the afternoon. Wind gusts of up to 60 mph will hit before midnight Tuesday, and gusts of up to 40 mph are forecasted through Wednesday, spelling possible trouble for firefighters.

Thirteen firefighting crews are currently fighting the blaze with 45 fire engines, four bulldozers and several aircraft - including six air tankers, two "air attack" planes and four "air attack" helicopters.

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