With the Mesa Fire near Lompoc almost contained, the alpacas, miniature donkeys and pot-bellied pigs Tuesday returned home from their temporary shelter at the Santa Maria rodeo grounds.
The fire that began Monday afternoon near La Purisima Mission State Historic Park was 85 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
The blaze charred 320 acres in the Burton Mesa Preserve, and despite threatening 1,200 structures, none were damaged. All evacuations were lifted Tuesday and roads reopened.
At the fire’s peak, authorities ordered hundreds of residents in Cebada Canyon, along Tularosa Road and in Gypsy Canyon to evacuate as the blaze raced through the dry chaparral.
The orders also meant the rural residents of homes sitting on sprawling parcels with horses and other livestock had to get their animals to safety, prompting the Horse Emergency Evacuation Team (HEET) volunteers to mobilize.
“As soon as we got our call, our volunteers were just ready to take in whatever we needed,” Tina Tonascia from Elks Recreation Inc. said.
“It was an unexpectedly eventful Monday,” Tonascia said.
HEET volunteer Bob Taylor of Orcutt spearheaded getting the rodeo grounds open for Mesa Fire evacuees.
The organization works to provide a place for people to keep their animals during an evacuation.
“Our responsibility is to get the animals out, but don’t put ourselves in danger,” said Taylor, who also belongs to the Elks.
Many rural residents won’t leave their property unless they know their animals have safe place to go, Taylor said.
“If you don’t have a place to go with your livestock you really don’t want to evacuate,” he said, adding that others are not equipped to undertake the evacuation themselves. “By giving them an opportunity that one, we will haul out for you, and two, you can haul to us, then we give you the confidence you can get your own life out of the area.”
The Santa Maria Elks volunteers had feed and water in place for the four-legged evacuees, who were calm despite the new surroundings.
For instance, the alpacas — Tonascia described them as precious and darling — were “munching away,” she said.
“It was neat we were able to do that for the community,” Tonascia added.
While the Mesa Fire sparked near the historic La Purisima Mission, the staff and animals sheltered in place.
“We were completely safe,” State Park Ranger Scott Anderson said.
Hikers were told to leave Monday, but allowed in Tuesday although some trails were still closed due to the firefighting activity.
“Our animals and structures are all safe,” Anderson said Tuesday.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, and the Fire Department on Tuesday sought information about one or two individuals — most likely juveniles — who were on a hiking trail behind the water treatment plant at the time the fire started, Zaniboni said. Anyone with information can contact the Santa Barbara County Fire Department Tip Line at 805.686.5074.
The cost of the firefighting battle reached $650,000 as of midday Tuesday, Zaniboni said.
Unlike the clouds of billowing smoke seen Monday afternoon from the hills above Lompoc, the fire generated little smoke on Tuesday. Crews continued to mop-up, reinforce containment lines, check for hot spots and patrol the fire, Zaniboni said.
Firefighting resources were demobilized and made available for response within the Santa Barbara County Operational Area.
From a peak of 600 personnel, the firefighting force had dropped to approximately 230 on Tuesday afternoon, Zaniboni added.