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California wildfires: Residents flee Santa Barbara as blaze grows to third largest in state's history

Residents have evacuated areas of Santa Barbara. Credit: AP

Residents of Santa Barbara in California have fled wildfires as strong winds drive the blaze towards the city.

Parts of Santa Barbara were under mandatory evacuation, while at the city's zoo workers began putting animals into crates and kennels to prepare for a possible evacuation.

In downtown Santa Barbara, Maya Schoop-Rutten, owner of Chocolate Maya, said the city was "like a ghost town".

"Everything is shut down.

"It's very, very eerie," Ms Schoop-Rutten said.

Firefighter Corey Iverson, right, with his wife, Ashley, and their daughter. Credit: AP

Fire spokesperson Jude Olivas said 400 fire engines has been sent to protect homes in the area. The 404-square-mile Thomas Fire is the third largest in the state's history. It has burned more than 700 homes and killed firefighter Cory Iverson.

The 32-year-old, died Thursday from burns and smoke inhalation, according to autopsy results announced on Saturday.

Since the fire began on December 4, about 95,000 people have been placed under mandatory evacuation. The evacuation zone near Santa Barbara on Saturday was 17 miles long and up to five miles wide affecting about 3,300 people.

Last week, president Donald Trump declared a state of emergency over the wildfires which released federal assistance to fire crews desperately battling to contain the fires.