Mandatory evacuation orders were extended to neighborhoods west of Goleta late Friday as nearly 1,200 firefighters joined the battle against the 8,400-acre Gap Fire, California’s top firefighting priority.
Late Friday, authorities ordered the evacuation of all residents between Ellwood Canyon and Farren roads north of Cathedral Oaks Road and Calle Real. The order included Ellwood Ranch Road.
To the east, some 1,400 residents near Old San Marcos Road and Highway 154 are under an evacuation warning, meaning they should remain on alert and be prepared to go at a moment’s notice.
Officials emphasized Saturday morning that no evacuation orders or warnings have been lifted, despite erroneous media reports elsewhere. They also said Winchester Mobile Home Park south of Calle Real has not been included in any evacuation warning or order, contrary to emergency notification calls some residents may have received late Friday.
An estimated 2,700 homes have now been evacuated in an eight-mile swath from Farren to Old San Marcos Road north of Cathedral Oaks. Up the mountain, meanwhile, about 100 homes in the Haney Tract, Hidden Valley, Kinevan Road, Painted Cave, Trout Club, West Camino Cielo and Windermere areas were evacuated Thursday night.
Authorities said evacuees would not be allowed to return to their homes while the fire remained “active.” The American Red Cross, Santa Barbara County Chapter has established an evacuation center for residents and pets at San Marcos High School, 4750 Hollister Ave. People who are unable to evacuate without assistance should call 9-1-1 for ambulance transportation.
Backed by as many as 15 air tanker planes and six water-dropping helicopters, more than 1,000 firefighters battled the flames Friday. The aerial assault included a converted DC-10 airliner that is capable of dropping a load of fire retardant a mile long. Officials said Friday that retardant drops were most effective along the fire’s northeastern edge and efforts were being concentrated there to keep the blaze from reaching Highway 154 or crossing West Camino Cielo into the Santa Ynez Valley. Although the size of the blaze had grown to 8,400 acres Saturday, fire officials said it was now 24 percent contained.
The area continued to be raked by dangerous sundowner winds but Friday’s batch — although gusting to 50 mph — was weaker than previous nights. The down-slope winds are expected to taper off over the weekend and there is a chance of rain early next week.
At a Friday news conference at Santa Barbara County‘s Emergency Operations Center, officials said the fire had pushed to the edge of Camino Manadero, north of the Patterson Avenue “curve,” and actually had burned into several yards there Thursday night. No homes were damaged but county fire Capt. Eli Iskow, a department spokesman, said the intense heat forced three firefighters to briefly take shelter inside a home. Iskow said the firefighters made the retreat for their own safety.
No houses have burned but officials said the fire destroyed a motor home in upper Ellwood Canyon and a few ranch structures in upper Glen Annie Canyon. No serious injuries have been reported.
The Gap Fire started about 5:45 p.m. Tuesday near the Lizard’s Mouth hiking area on West Camino Cielo, about a half-mile east of the Winchester Canyon Gun Club. Officials have said the fire was caused by humans but have refused to say whether it was accidentally or intentionally set. The blaze remains under investigation.
At first, about 45 homes were evacuated from mostly rural ranch land in Glen Annie and La Patera canyons. Fueled by sundowners, the fire began growing dramatically Wednesday, spreading to about 1,200 acres before doubling in size overnight Wednesday and again Thursday. The fire is running in an an area that last burned in 1955. It’s about two miles west of the path of the 1990 Painted Cave Fire that destroyed 600 homes in a little over an hour.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the county Thursday and visited the area Saturday morning. To date, he has declared states of emergency in 11 wildfire-plagued counties: Santa Barbara, Butte, Kern, Mariposa, Mendocino, Monterey, Plumas, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta and Trinity.
County fire Chief Tom Franklin said the Gap Fire is California’s No. 1 firefighting priority because of its proximity to densely populated neighborhoods. Fires are prioritized based on danger, not size, he said, noting that last year’s Zaca Fire — the second largest in modern California history — was not a priority fire “because there wasn’t a lot of threat.”
At Friday’s news conference, Southern California Edison spokeswoman Jane Brown said crews were on standby to deal with fire-caused power outages like those that darkened the South Coast on Wednesday night and have continued intermittently. She appealed to customers to conserve electricity to lessen the impact when the utility needs to reroute transmission lines to deal with the emergency.
Direct Relief International, in cooperation with the county Health Department and the city of Goleta, will continue to distribute free NIOSH N-95 face masks to residents who cannot avoid outdoor exposure to the smoke. The masks are available from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Camino Real Marketplace kiosk between Borders and the movie theater.
The fire forced the cancellation of Fourth of July festivities in Goleta, including the annual fireworks show at Girsh Park and the Independence Day celebration at Stow House.
Summer school at Dos Pueblos High, 7266 Alameda Ave., was canceled this week because the campus is being used as an emergency services incident command center and staging area. School will resume Monday but, for at least the next two weeks, classes will be held at La Colina Junior High, 4025 Foothill Road, said Barbara Keyani, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara School Districts. MTD will continue to provide bus service for students.
In response to overwhelming call volumes, county officials announced Saturday that a new Gap Fire public information line had been established at 805.861.5195. The line will provide updates on the fire status and will be staffed from 8 a.m. to midnight. Los Padres National Forest‘s Information Center can still be reached at 805.961.5770.
Click here for up-to-the-minute reports from the Incident Information System. Click here to join the county Fire Department’s “Red Flag Zone 1” Google discussion group and to receive red-flag alerts.
Additional information can be found on county government cable TV station Channel 20, or the following AM or FM radio stations: AM stations KTMS 990, KUHL 1410, KZSB 1290 and KINF 1440; FM stations KCSB 91.9, KSPE 94.5 (Spanish), KSYV 96.7, KTYD 99.9, KSBL 101.7, KRAZ 105.9 and KIST 107.7 (Spanish); and San Marcos Pass Radio 1040 AM.
For the most complete fire coverage, however, check back frequently with Noozhawk, which is updated throughout the day and night.
Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at email@example.com.