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More than 100 homes burned in California blaze

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  • NEW: Around 150 homes damaged or destroyed; 5,500 ordered to evacuate
  • NEW: Man dies during evacuation but unclear if death related to fire
  • State of emergency declared in Santa Barbara County
  • Three people suffer burns, 10 smoke inhalation
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SANTA BARBARA, California (CNN) -- A brush fire that roared out of control in Santa Barbara County has damaged or destroyed nearly 150 homes, charred 1,500 acres and possibly contributed to at least one death, officials said Friday.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday in Santa Barbara County as firefighters and rescue workers from multiple state and local agencies worked into the night to contain the so-called Tea fire.

Named after the fire's suspected place of origin, the Tea Garden Estate, the fire has destroyed a monastery, multimillion-dollar mansions and modest ranch-style homes and forced more than 5,500 people to evacuate.

A 98-year-old man who was evacuated from the fire to a hotel has died, Santa Barbara Deputy Police Chief Richard Glaus said. The man suffered from multiple medical conditions and authorities are not yet sure if the death was caused by the evacuation, Glaus said.

One firefighter and two civilians have suffered burns in the fire, and 10 people have suffered smoke inhalation, said Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Michelle Mickiewicz. The firefighter was taken to Sherman Oaks Burn Center, and the two burned civilians were taken to a burn center in Irvine.

Investigators said they have not determined the cause of the blaze, but investigators are looking into leads at the privately owned Tea Garden Estate, about a mile north of Santa Barbara's Westmont College.

Oprah Winfrey, Michael Douglas and Rob Lowe are some of the celebrities with homes in the upscale oceanside enclave of Montecito, which has been affected by the fire. It was not known if any celebrities' homes have been damaged. Video Watch as fire rips through California town »

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"It was very scary watching the flames," said Montecito resident John Abraham Powell, whose home was destroyed. "They were 100 feet high, a wall of flame going all the way up that mountain, coming this way, and people frantically trying to get out of their homes."

Powell said the community began in the 1950s "based on kind of a communal living idea, and we know almost all of our neighbors well, and that part of the community is what burned first."

"It hits home, definitely. I mean, I know the people who have lost homes in here," said Firefighter Eric Eaker, who was putting retardant on Powell's home. iReport.com: Are wildfires blazing near you? Let us know

"I know people who will build them back and keep their priorities straight -- that they've escaped with their life and their families, and that's what's important."

At Westmont College, where hundreds of students spent the night in a fireproof gymnasium, eight structures were destroyed, including a physics building and four residence hall buildings, the school's Web site said. Fourteen faculty homes in the area also burned, it said.

No fires remained active in the campus area Friday, and the school said all students and employees were fine. Students who had transportation were released from campus Friday.

More than 500 firefighters were battling the blaze. Helicopters were in the air to assess the fire at daybreak, and air tankers were joining them.

High winds fanned the flames, which sprang up around 6:30 p.m. Thursday northwest of Los Angeles. Late Friday, fire officials said they had been aided by lighter-than-expected winds throughout the day -- although high temperatures and low humidity still made fighting the quick-starting blaze difficult.

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The blaze threatened roughly 1,000 homes, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

"We knew this place was going to burn," Powell said. "The only thing we did not know was when and how bad. Now we know."

CNN's Stan Wilson and Tom Larson and CNN Radio's Patty Lane contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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