The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department issued a mandatory evacuation order at noon Thursday for all residents of Tepusquet Canyon, from Santa Maria Mesa Road to Highway 166, because of the expanding La Brea Fire, which has consumed more than 36,000 acres.

Also under a mandatory evacuation order was all of Colson Canyon, including the Blazing Saddles community, and all of Ruiz Canyon, according to Santa Barbara County communications director William Boyer.

The canyon roads were being closed to the public to allow for the evacuations.

Fire and sheriff’s department officials estimated the new evacuation orders included about 150 homes and ranches. All previous evacuation orders and warnings also remained in effect.

The sheriff’s department closed Tepusquet Canyon Road at Santa Maria Mesa Road at noon Thursday. Residents of Tepusquet Canyon who reached the roadblock but needed to enter the closed area to rescue family members or animals were advised that they would need to show proof of residence, according to sheriff’s department dispatch reports.

By early Thursday afternoon, 36,108 acres had been claimed by the La Brea Fire, which started Saturday in the Los Padres National Forest. The number of personnel fighting the blaze had grown to more than 1,663, fire officials said Thursday, and containment remained steady at 10 percent.

A new evacuation order issued Thursday morning included Pine Canyon Road from Highway 166 to Horseshoe Springs Campground to the north, Forest Trail 31W12 to the east, Buckhorn Canyon Road to the south and Highway 166 to the west.

Thursday morning, officials noted that progress was made on the fire lines throughout the day and night Wednesday. With aggressive firefighting efforts and lighter winds, the fire burning above Cayuma Valley was holding near the edge of the forest. Wednesday night, the fire crossed over the area of the headwaters of Pine and Buckhorn canyons, and the sheriff’s department evacuated 10 homes in the lower end of those canyons.

The Martin Mars air tanker, which holds up to 7,200 gallons of water, made its first drop on the fire Wednesday night. It is expected to continue working on the fire Thursday, drafting water out of San Antonio Reservoir.

In addition, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District reissued an air quality watch for Santa Barbara County on Thursday. Residents are urged to be aware of increased ash falling, particularly in the northern areas of the county.

Ash particles are an irritant, and as time passes, they are broken up into smaller particles that can be stirred up into the air, producing localized areas of poor air quality.

A thick layer of smoke covered the entire Santa Ynez Valley Thursday afternoon, after winds carried the smoke southward overnight Wednesday. White smoke drifted high on afternoon breezes while darker, gray-brown smoke covered the base of the Santa Ynez Mountain range, hiding all but the lowest elevations by late afternoon.

There will be a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, at the Benjamin Foxen Elementary School, 4949 Foxen Canyon Road, in Sisquoc,

Three helibases still support the fire: One at Santa Ynez Airport, one at Santa Maria Airport and a supply helibase at the Incident Command Post. A retardant base is at Spanish Ranch in Cuyama Valley, and a portable retardant plant is being set up in Pine Canyon. Structure protection resources are positioned near the homes that are under the Santa Barbara sheriff’s evacuation orders. 

Firefighting conditions remain difficult because of the steep and inaccessible terrain, dry dense chaparral, low relative humidity and erratic winds. Extreme fire behavior has been observed since the fire began. The northeast portion of the fire area has not burned since 1922. The public is urged to seek an alternate route and to use extra caution when traveling Highway 166, because of emergency vehicle traffic and congestion.

For the latest fire information, click here or call 805.961.5770 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The American Red Cross, Santa Barbara County Chapter has set up a temporary shelter at Cuyama Valley High School, 4500 Highway 166 in New Cuyama. Small animals are allowed. A large animal shelter is available at the Santa Maria Fair Park, 937 Thornburg. Call 805.681.4332 for more information.

Meanwhile, Forest Service investigators are seeking the public’s help to establish the cause of the fire. Investigators have spoken to witnesses, but are seeking additional information relating to a tan or gold colored 2004-05 Chevy van that was last seen on Sierra Madre Road on Saturday afternoon. Anyone who was in that general area at the time or has other information about the origin of the fire is urged to call investigators at 805.686.5074. Callers may remain anonymous.

Noozhawk staff writer Michelle Nelson can be reached at Staff writer Laurie Jervis can be reached at