Wildfire in Santa Barbara County mushrooms in size

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A wildfire spurred by strong winds has mushroomed in size as it burned brush north of Santa Barbara (KFSN)

A wildfire spurred by strong winds has mushroomed in size as it burned brush north of Santa Barbara, forcing the evacuations of hundreds of campers, some homes, and a refinery as it crept toward the ocean.

The blaze broke out about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in Los Padres National Forest and by around midnight it had expanded to 1,100 acres or nearly 2 square miles, Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.

"The wind picked up significantly," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview early Thursday.

Hundreds of people were forced to evacuate area campgrounds because of the fire's surge, he said.

Mandatory evacuations were also ordered for Refugio Canyon, Venadito Canyon and Las Flores Canyon, which includes an ExxonMobil refinery, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office said.

Zaniboni said he didn't have a specific number of residences or people affected. He said the oil refinery has a cleared buffer zone around it.

"The refinery has fire around it and companies in place protecting it,' he added.

ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler said the company has evacuated non-essential employees, and those that remain are there to help with fire protection.

"Our primary concern is for the safety of our employees, contractors and the environment," Spitler said.

Zaniboni said that by early Thursday the winds had eased and it was cooler, aiding crews. But he warned about an expected return of heat and strong winds later in the day.

During the day, the area's Sundowner winds gusted to nearly 40 mph as they pushed the flames through canyons full of heavy brush. A dangerous wind advisory was in effect until 6 a.m. Thursday.

One family at the popular El Capitan State Beach decided to leave earlier Wednesday before campgrounds were evacuated.

"It's completely smoked out up there so we decided to take the kids and get out of there," Ted Bayard told KEYT-TV from his driver's seat. "We decided instead of waiting until 10 o'clock tonight we'd get out before the sun went down."

About 50 horses were evacuated from a ranch and taken to a shelter that has been set up at the county fairgrounds.

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