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WILL FIESTA REKINDLE HOPE AFTER FIRE?

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One month after a wind-swept wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes in the hills above Santa Barbara, residents are festooning the streets with banners for this week's annual fiesta.

"After the fire, the community was struck by an incredible feeling of shock," said spokeswoman Diana Vandervort. "We're hoping the fiesta will foster a spirit of community rebuilding."The June 27 blaze killed a woman, left hundreds homeless and wrought more than $250 million in damage in an area north of Santa Barbara.

In the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, a 350-acre arson fire destroyed 46 homes and damaged 26 others the same day. Damage there was estimated between $30 million and $40 million.

"We were wondering if we really still had anything to celebrate," said Peter Georgi, an insurance agent who is directing Santa Barbara's Old Spanish Days fiesta, the biggest tourism event of the year for the city of 300,000. The five-day celebration begins Wednesday.

Georgi, who had 10 clients lose homes in the blaze, said he asked them what they thought as he handed out claim checks. "They said to go ahead, that they didn't have anything else to look forward to," he said in an interview.

Red, green and yellow flags already line the fiesta's main thoroughfare. Food booths and stages are going up for the 100,000 people organizers hope will attend.