Celebs must flee California town

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ash fell like snow and heavy smoke had residents gasping for air Monday as a huge Southern California wildfire exploded in size, becoming the fifth largest in state history and driving celebrities from a wealthy hillside enclave.

Tens of thousands have fled their homes as flames churn through foothill towns near Santa Barbara, the latest flare-up after a week of wind-fanned wildfires throughout the region.

With acrid smoke thick in the air, even residents not under evacuation orders took the chance to leave, fearing another shutdown of a key coastal highway that was closed intermittently last week.

Officials handed out masks to those who stayed behind in Montecito, an exclusive community about 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles that’s home to stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges and Drew Barrymore.

Actor Rob Lowe wore a mask as he live-streamed his family evacuating Sunday from their smoke-shrouded home.

“Praying for the people in my area,” he 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!”

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeted that neighbors were helping each other and their animals get to safety.

The blaze has destroyed more than 750 buildings, officials said. It was partially contained after burning nearly 360 square miles of dry brush and timber.