Friday started out as just another crisp, clear day for Pat Picariello, who lives in a scenic, narrow canyon below Highway 154 in the foothills above Santa Barbara.
But Picariello’s tranquil morning took an ominous turn shortly before 9 a.m., when he smelled what he thought was wood smoke from his neighbor’s stove.
“Then I realized he had gone to work,” Picariello recalled, “and a few minutes later, I looked out and saw that the smoke was a cloud of smoke coming across our valley down there.”
Upon investigation, Picariello discovered that a neighbor’s rustic home — a canvas yurt with an attached deck — was on fire.
“At that point I realized there was something going on,” he said. “I ran onto the road, ran about 150 feet toward the property that was on fire, and found that the yurt was engulfed in flames. There was a lot of fire at that point.”
Picariello turned around, grabbed a pet bird that was in a cage, and quickly retreated to the road and called 9-1-1.
That sent Santa Barbara County Fire Department crews rushing to the scene, which is off the 2000 block of North San Marcos Road.
By the time firefighters arrived, the flames had nearly consumed the small structure and were spreading to the nearby chaparral, ultimately burning about half an acre.
A propane tank was venting its contents, said fire Capt. David Sadecki, and live ammunition was being burned in the fire, presenting a danger to emergency personnel on scene.
After knocking down the flames in about 45 minutes, fire crews were kept busy most of the morning trying to completely douse the blaze, a job made more difficult by the rugged terrain and limited access to site — which is reached by a nearly mile-long, narrow dirt road.
They were expected to remain on scene through the afternoon doing mop-up work, Sadecki said.
Numerous county units were involved in fighting the blaze, assisted by personnel from the Painted Cave and San Marcos Pass volunteer fire departments, the U.S. Forest Service, and the county’s new Copter 3, which made numerous water drops on the flames.
Cause of the fire remained unknown, but an investigator was on scene, Sadecki said.
A county building inspector also was called in to make an assessment of various structures in the area, Sadecki said.
Late Friday morning, Picariello stood on the edge of San Marcos Road, peering down into the canyon where he lives as crews continued to douse hot spots and the helicopter periodically swooped in to make a water drop.
“It’s really unfortunate, and I really feel badly for the fellow whose property caught fire,” Picariello said.
“It’s basically just a beautiful spot,” he added. “It’s breathtaking. Being down there is kind of like being in a national park. I just look at it like a refuge here in Santa Barbara. It’s a beautiful place.”