Smoke from the Gap Fire erupts from mountainous terrain west of Winchester Canyon in a view from Patterson Avenue on Sunday evening. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)

The 5-day-old Gap Fire continued its westward march Sunday, away from populated areas, and firefighters made slow but steady progress along its eastern and southern flanks. More mandatory evacuation orders were downgraded to warnings.

Authorities, while encouraged by the turn of events, said they were under no illusions that the nearly 10,000-acre fire was less of a threat. What worries them now is a severe heat wave that is forecast to arrive Tuesday.

While weekend temperatures remained in the high 80s and 90s, sundowner winds have eased since Friday night and humidity levels have risen. But a heat wave is expected to strike Tuesday, pushing South Coast temperatures into the 90s and 100s. What’s more, the National Weather Service is warning of a possible monsoonal flow from the south that could cause lightning and more wind.

Those conditions will pose significant challenges to fire crews working in the Santa Ynez Mountains’ steep, largely inaccessible terrain to the west. Towering, dense chaparral that hasn’t burned for more than 50 years only makes it more dangerous.

Wally Bennett, the fire’s new incident commander, told a Sunday news briefing that the fire was headed west into “very rugged, very unsafe country” with precious few locations to make a stand.

“We’re not going to throw firefighters out there in areas where they don’t have safe zones,” he said.

As of late Sunday, the Gap Fire had burned nearly 10,000 acres and was 30 percent contained. More than 1,200 firefighters — backed by seven water-dropping helicopters and six air tankers — have largely stabilized fire lines along the eastern and southern edges. As a result, authorities have been able to lift mandatory evacuation orders in many of the neighborhoods that were emptied out as the fire raged out of control.

(Erika Bildsten map)

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Residents have now been cleared to return to their homes throughout the Goleta Valley and in Painted Cave, although they remain under evacuation warnings to stay alert and prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. Only the Haney Tract, Hidden Valley, Kinevan Road, Trout Club, West Camino Cielo and Windermere Ranch areas up the mountain are still on mandatory evacuation. In all, some 900 houses are in peril on the fire’s east side while just a few, scattered houses are to the west.

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 and a 24-hour tip line — 805.961.5710 — has been established to receive information on the origin.

Because of its proximity to densely populated neighborhoods, the Gap Fire is California’s No. 1 firefighting priority. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County on Thursday and visited the area Saturday. 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.


From left, Los Angeles City firefighters Michael Morales, Tony Navarro and Rich Hernandez take a well-deserved break at Dos Pueblos High School on Sunday. If circumstances permit, their crew is scheduled to leave Monday. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)

In other Gap Fire news:

» The American Red Cross Santa Barbara County Chapter evacuation center remains open for residents and pets at San Marcos High School, 4750 Hollister Ave.

» Several information kiosks are being used to distribute fire and road closure updates. Kiosks in Goleta are at Calle Real Center in front of Trader Joe’s, 5680 Calle Real; Camino Real Marketplace, 7004 Marketplace Drive; the Fairview Shopping Center, 175 N. Fairview Ave.; the Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave.; and the Old Town 7-Eleven, 5810 Hollister Ave. In Isla Vista, a kiosk is at Embarcadero Hall, 928 Embarcaderso del Norte. And kiosks are in Santa Barbara at La Cumbre Plaza near Sears, 121 S. Hope Ave.; Paseo Nuevo, 700 State St.; San Marcos High; the Santa Barbara Mission, 2201 Laguna St.; and Stearns Wharf.

» The county Public Health Department and the county Air Pollution Control District on Monday downgraded the county’s Air Quality Advisory to a precautionary status. Although air quality in much of the county has improved, some areas may still be affected by smoke and ash.

» Summer session classes at Dos Pueblos High, 7266 Alameda Ave., have been moved to La Colina Junior High, 4025 Foothill Road, for the next two weeks. MTD will continue to provide bus service for students.


A helicopter gets a retardant refill from a deployment base on Cathedral Oaks Road near Los Carneros Road on Sunday. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)

» Los Padres National Forest lands south of Highway 154 and East Camino Cielo between Gibraltar and Refugio roads have been closed until the Gap Fire is suppressed. The closure prohibits all public entry to national forest lands, trails, roads and recreation sites, but it does not apply to private land.

» Santa Barbara County officials have established a new Gap Fire public information line at 805.681.5195. 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.

», Santa Barbara’s parents’ resource Web site and a Noozhawk partner, has a comprehensive update on summer camps and the fire’s effects on specific programs. Click here for more information.

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.

For more information, watch Channel 19 Goleta TV or click here for the city of Goleta Web site.

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 Local student Erika Bildsten is a Noozhawk contributor.

Bill Macfadyen

William M. Macfadyen, Noozhawk Publisher

Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.