Crews struggle to keep flames from California neighborhoods

This satellite image provided by NASA shows smoke from wildfires near Los Angeles in Southern California, lower right, blowing out over the Pacific Ocean, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. The U.S. National Weather Service says the smoke is first pushed westward by easterly winds at lower altitudes. As it rises the smoke encounters high-altitude southerly winds that push it towards the North Coast of California and well out into the Pacific Ocean. White clouds are seen at left. (NASA via AP)
In this early morning Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 photo released by Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames are seen behind Carpinteria, Calif. A flare-up on the western edge of Southern California's largest and most destructive wildfire sent residents fleeing Sunday, as wind-fanned flames churned through canyons and down hillsides toward coastal towns. Crews with help from water-dropping aircraft saved several homes as unpredictable gusts sent the blaze churning deeper into foothill areas northwest of Los Angeles that haven't burned in decades. New evacuations were ordered in Carpinteria, a seaside city in Santa Barbara County that has been under fire threat for days. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
In this Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, photo a fire-fighting helicopter makes a water drop on a hotspot near a house in the Shepard Mesa neighborhood in Carpinteria, Calif., as a wildfire burns. (Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via AP)
In this early morning Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 photo released by Santa Barbara County Fire Department, firefighters working on structure protection, keep a close eye on nearby flames atop Shepard Mesa Road in Carpinteria, Calif. The area has been evacuated by law enforcement and FD has moved in to protect homes. in Carpinteria, Calif. A flare-up on the western edge of Southern California's largest and most destructive wildfire sent residents fleeing Sunday, as wind-fanned flames churned through canyons and down hillsides toward coastal towns. Crews with help from water-dropping aircraft saved several homes as unpredictable gusts sent the blaze churning deeper into foothill areas northwest of Los Angeles that haven't burned in decades. New evacuations were ordered in Carpinteria, a seaside city in Santa Barbara County that has been under fire threat for days. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
This Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, image made from a video on Rob Lowe's Instagram account shows the actor in a mask as he live-streams his family evacuating from their smoke-shrouded home, where a growing Southern California wildfire is threatening homes in the wealthy enclave of Montecito. "Praying for the people in my area," Lowe said to his Instagram followers. "Hope everybody's getting out safe like we are, and thanks for the prayers and thoughts. And good luck to the firefighters, we need you!" (Rob Lowe/Instagram via AP)
In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, with flames burning behind it, a Christmas tree stands as a lone sentinel in the front yard of an evacuated home in Carpinteria, Calif., Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Ash fell like snow and heavy smoke had residents gasping for air Monday as a wildfire exploded in size, becoming the fifth largest in state history. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, county fire hand crew member Nikolas Abele keeps an eye on a hillside for any stray embers during a firing operation in Santa Monica Canyon in Carpinteria, Calif., Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Ash fell like snow and heavy smoke had residents gasping for air Monday as a wildfire exploded in size, becoming the fifth largest in state history. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, with smoke obscuring the sun in the distance, a Coulson C-130 Air Tanker turns in to make a drop on a hillside near Toro Canyon Road in Carpinteria, Calif., Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Ash fell like snow and heavy smoke had residents gasping for air Monday as a wildfire exploded in size, becoming the fifth largest in state history. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
In this Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, photo flames from a wildfire consume the mountainside near the Cate School campus in Carpinteria, Calif. (Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via AP)
In this Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, photo Cal-Fire firefighters keep watch on a wildfire blaze burning the mountainside near the Cate School campus in Carpinteria, Calif. (Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via AP)
In this Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, photo clouds form in the distance as two homes stay standing after surviving an early morning wildfire at the Shepard Mesa neighborhood in Carpinteria, Calif. (Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via AP)
This Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, image made from a video on Rob Lowe's Instagram account shows palm trees and smoke as Lowe live-streams his family evacuating from their smoke-shrouded home, where a growing Southern California wildfire is threatening homes in the wealthy enclave of Montecito. "Praying for the people in my area," Lowe said to his Instagram followers. "Hope everybody's getting out safe like we are, and thanks for the prayers and thoughts. And good luck to the firefighters, we need you!" (Rob Lowe/Instagram via AP)
In this Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 photo released by Santa Barbara County Fire Department firefighters knock down flames as they advance on homes atop Shepherd Mesa Road in Carpinteria, Calif. A flare-up on the western edge of Southern California's largest and most destructive wildfire sent residents fleeing Sunday, as wind-fanned flames churned through canyons and down hillsides toward coastal towns. Crews with help from water-dropping aircraft saved several homes as unpredictable gusts sent the blaze churning deeper into foothill areas northwest of Los Angeles that haven't burned in decades. New evacuations were ordered in Carpinteria, a seaside city in Santa Barbara County that has been under fire threat for days. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
In this Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 photo released by Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames advance on homes off Shepard Mesa Road at 5:45 Sunday morning in Carpinteria, Calif. A flare-up on the western edge of Southern California's largest and most destructive wildfire sent residents fleeing Sunday, as wind-fanned flames churned through canyons and down hillsides toward coastal towns. Crews with help from water-dropping aircraft saved several homes as unpredictable gusts sent the blaze churning deeper into foothill areas northwest of Los Angeles that haven't burned in decades. New evacuations were ordered in Carpinteria, a seaside city in Santa Barbara County that has been under fire threat for days. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

LOS ANGELES — A cooking fire at a homeless encampment sparked a wildfire last week that destroyed six homes in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, authorities said Tuesday, while the fifth-largest wildfire in California history burning northwest of the city kept expanding and kept thousands out of their homes.

They are among a half-dozen fires that flared in Southern California last week and were driven by fiercely gusting Santa Ana winds.

Arson investigators determined that the Bel Air fire near the world-famous Getty museum was started by an illegal fire at a camp near a freeway underpass, city fire Capt. Erik Scott said.

The camp was empty when firefighters found it but people apparently had been sleeping and cooking there for at least several days, he said.

Northwest of Los Angeles, firefighters protected foothill homes while the fire grew mostly into forest land, Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said.

Red Flag warnings for fire danger due to Santa Ana winds and a critical lack of moisture were extended into the week, with a possible increase in gusts Thursday into Friday.

Tens of thousands of people remain evacuated, including many from the seaside enclaves of Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria and the inland agricultural town of Fillmore.

Still among evacuees due to smoke Tuesday were Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Eric Burdon and his wife, Marianna, of Ojai. Last week, Burdon wrote on Facebook about having to flee and returning temporarily to find their home still standing with ashes all around.

"A week like this gives you the perspective that life is what truly matters," he wrote.

A photo accompanying the post showed his handprint and signature written in ashes.

Residents near a Carpinteria avocado orchard said the trees could end up saving their homes.

"You have a thick layer of leaves underneath the bottom and they are watered regularly, so it's like a sponge," Jeff Dreyer, who lives nearby, told KEYT-TV. "So the fire gets to the sponge full of water and it slows it down."

Officials handed out masks to those who stayed behind in Montecito, an exclusive community about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from Los Angeles that's home to stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges and Drew Barrymore. Actor Rob Lowe was among residents who evacuated over the weekend.

The blaze — known as the Thomas Fire — has destroyed more than 680 homes, officials said. It was just partially contained after burning more than 360 square miles (930 square kilometers) of dry brush and timber. The fire has been burning for more than a week.

To the north, San Francisco Bay Area firefighters quickly contained blazes Tuesday that destroyed at least two homes in hills east of Oakland — the site of a 1991 firestorm that killed 25 people.

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AP reporter John Antczak contributed to this report.

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For complete coverage of the California wildfires, click here: https://apnews.com/tag/Wildfires.

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