A savagely swift fire that burned up to 250 homes overnight in this coastal city's eastern foothills began at virtually the same spot as another disastrous blaze years ago, firemen reported today.
The string of a box kite that became entangled in a power line was blamed for the fire.
Meanwhile, firefighters braced for possible winds tonight that could spread the fire again.
Officials said the fire, which crackled out of the drought-dry brush and licked within 13 blocks of the city's main street began at Coyote Road and Mountain Drive in the Sycamore Canyon area - the same location as the 1964 fire that lasted 13 days, killed four persons, covered 90,000 acres and cost about $23 million.
The current fire, which was spotted about 7:40 p.m. Tuesday night, has so far covered about 700 acres.
It ravaged some of the finest homes in the city, most assessed at six figures, with some in the $350,000 range. They were on the hilly Riviera section, about 2 miles from the historic Spanish Mission here and about 1 mile from busy U.S. Highway 101, skirting in the Pacific Ocean.
County Fire Chief Bill Patterson said 150 to 250 homes were burned, most of them destroyed.
Mayor David Shiffman said he was given a tentative figure of 100 homes destroyed and 40 damaged in the city and 100 other homes destroyed outside the city limits.
Remarkably, no one was killed, and the only serious injury was to a firefighter knocked down a hill by a fire-retardant dropped by an airplane.
The fire penetrated into the municipal limits of this city of 72,000, almost 100 miles north of Los Angeles. At one point the fire leaped one block west of Alameda Padre Serra, the narrow scenic road along the Riviera, which overlooks the city and its harbor. The fire burned several houses just five blocks from Milpas Street, the main business avenue in the eastern section of the city.
Thousands of people clustered in the hills were on downtown street corners, severely impeding fire fighting, and some of them paid for it. Two rubberneckers stopped near the fire, got out for a closer look, and saw both their cars burned up.
One man was found kicking in a door in the fire area and was arrested for looting. One of the arresting officers, Greg Stock, told a reporter as he looked down on dozens of burning, expensive homes, "It's just like Vietnam. Only there we did it on purpose.
Another policeman, Payne Green, who walks the city's only foot beat on the main artery, State Street, discovered that the only thing left of his home in the heart of the blaze, Sycamore Canyon, was the fireplace.
"I don't even have my billfold, but all that counts with me is that my kids and wife are safe," he said. "I guess my place is worth $150,000 or so, that's what others nearly like it have sold for. But, it's only insured for about $65,000. I was going to see about increasing that insurance this week. Now I guess I can forget it."
(It isn't exceptional for a policeman to own such a valuable home in Santa Barbara, because even standard three-bedroom homes in the city now are selling for $100,000.)
The County Board of Supervisors, the City Council and Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. declared states of emergency, the first steps toward obtaining federal disaster loans for homeowners.
In addition, Brown ordered in 120 national guardsmen to patrol the fire area.
Most victims, possibly 3,000 persons left their homes for a time-stayed with friends or at hotels, already jammed with summer tourists. Some of those forced out of their homes even took up housekeeping on boats in the harbor. The Red Cross and hundreds of citizens offered aid, and there was an oversupply of assistance.
Happy and sad stories were common. One couple returning from a vacation in Europe returned this morning to find their home gone.
A newspaper reporter returning from another town at midnight found the hillside where her new home was located in flames, but in the smoky morning light and another day of 90-degree temperatures, her home stood untouched.
Robert Burton, a well-known local insurance man, went to check on several homes he had insured, and recalled: "I came to see how they were, and I had to break in and put out fires in the back yards and on the roofs. There wasn't a fireman in sight, so I found a water hose and started spraying."