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Rain douses Cave fire in Santa Barbara County amid debris flow concerns

GOLETA - A strong storm moved into Southern California on Wednesday, almost completely dousing a wildfire that had threatened thousands of homes but bringing a potential new threat of debris flows from barren slopes.

Residents in and below the fire area on the south Santa Barbara County coast were issued a warning late Tuesday to be prepared to evacuate if necessary, but the first round of precipitation passed without problems.

Up to an inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain fell before dawn on the fire-scarred Santa Ynez Mountains above the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta but it occurred over a number of hours, said Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason.

Less than two years ago a sudden deluge just east of Santa Barbara unleashed massive debris flows from freshly burned slopes, ravaging neighboring Montecito and killing 23 people.

Eliason said the size of the blaze remained at just under 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) and was technically only 10% surrounded “but for the most part the fire is pretty well taken care of and pretty well put to bed.”

Crews will have to climb slopes to extinguish remaining “stubborn smokes” but remaining evacuation areas were to be repopulated in the afternoon and firefighters from other jurisdictions were being released.

“Hopefully we'll have everybody home in time for Thanksgiving,” Eliason said.

Another storm predicted to arrive overnight was expected to drop snow at the top of the fire area.

“You really don't get to say that very often in California,” he said.

The fire, dubbed the Cave fire, broke out Monday afternoon in Los Padres National Forest and was rapidly spread by erratic winds, threatening 2,400 homes and forcing about 5,500 people to flee.

Firefighters prevented any homes from being lost and most evacuees were allowed to return home Tuesday afternoon.

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Antczak reported from Los Angeles.

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