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Thursday, January 24 , 2019, 5:48 am | Fair 42º


Jesusita Fire: Ferocious Winds Fan Flames, Fuel Fears

20 homes reported destroyed in San Roque, Mission canyons as blaze erupts with a vengeance

Smoke from the eastern edge of the Jesusita Fire piles up and over the ridge of upper Rattlesnake Canyon as it creeps toward Montecito foothills burned in last year’s Tea Fire. This photo was taken from Riven Rock Road on Wednesday afternoon.
Smoke from the eastern edge of the Jesusita Fire piles up and over the ridge of upper Rattlesnake Canyon as it creeps toward Montecito foothills burned in last year’s Tea Fire. This photo was taken from Riven Rock Road on Wednesday afternoon.  (Will Macfadyen / Noozhawk photo)

After 24 hours of feints, the Jesusita Fire exploded in two directions Wednesday afternoon, engulfing homes in upper San Roque Canyon on its western flank while pushing east into Mission Canyon and beyond. At least 20 homes were destroyed, according to firefighter reports.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was en route to Santa Barbara, where he will hold a news conference Thursday morning and tour the burn area. On Wednesday night he declared a state of emergency in the area and asked federal authorities to issue an assistance grant to supplement firefighting efforts.

As winds gusted to 65 mph and temperatures climbed over 100 degrees, authorities expanded the mandatory evacuation order to areas that had been under evacuation warnings, including the densely populated Mission Canyon and upper Riviera neighborhoods all the way to State Street. That order was lifted late Wednesday, however.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told a late afternoon news conference that as many as 8,000 people had been evacuated and 12,000 reverse notification calls through the 9-1-1 system had been made.

Brown stressed that people should not wait to be called. “If you feel threatened,” he said, “don’t wait to leave.”

The wind velocity Wednesday afternoon forced officials to suspend air tanker flights over the fire area, although helicopters continued to make water drops. Strong sundowner winds wreaked havoc Wednesday night before dying down around 9 p.m. Sundowner conditions are expected again Thursday and Friday, and extremely low humidity is forecast through the weekend.

Three Ventura County firefighters suffered minor to moderate burns and smoke inhalation injuries when they were overrun by flames as winds kicked up about 3 p.m. Wednesday in Mission Canyon, officials said. The three were taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital before being airlifted to the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks on Wednesday night. They were listed in stable condition late Wednesday.

Heavy smoke and high winds caused intermittent power outages throughout the South Coast all afternoon. Explosions from arcing power lines reverberated throughout the foothills and there were downed lines in many neighborhoods.

County fire Capt. David Sadecki, a department spokesman, said the size of the fire officially remained at just under 200 acres. While acknowledging that the fire’s footprint clearly had more than doubled, thick smoke and fast-changing conditions made a more accurate estimate difficult to obtain. Early Thursday, unofficial reports estimated that at least 1,300 acres had burned.

The cause of the fire, which ignited just before 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Cathedral Peak area above San Roque Canyon, was under investigation, and authorities are asking anyone with information to call the county’s confidential tip line at 805.686.5074.

Sadecki said public safety and structure protection were the priorities and all available fire units were deployed around homes in an attempt to stave off flames.

View Evacuation Areas 05/07 8:30pm in a larger map

Mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect for all neighborhoods north of Foothill Road/Highway 192, between Ontare Road and Morada Lane on the west and El Cielito and Gibraltar roads to East Camino Cielo on the east.

As the fire began spreading east toward upper Rattlesnake Canyon late Wednesday afternoon, Montecito residents watched in alarm as angry, billowing smoke burst over ridge tops and piled high into the sky. Westmont College, whose campus was devastated by the Tea Fire in mid-November, was not considered to be in danger, but school officials were preparing Murchison Gymnasium as a shelter-in-place precaution. Authorities speculated that the Tea Fire burn area could act as an eastern fire break should the Jesusita Fire make it that far.

In all, nearly 900 firefighters were battling the blaze, with another 400 requested. Crews were backed up by five helicopters, and six fixed-wing airplanes had been working the fire before flights were suspended. Officials said the Jesusita Fire is competing for resources with wildfires in Arizona, where several of the tanker aircraft had been deployed.

A state of emergency was declared for Santa Barbara County, a designation that clears the way for federal reimbursement of the county’s emergency services costs, according to 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

The American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter emergency shelter drew about 16 people to Dos Pueblos High School, 7266 Alameda Ave. Click here for more information or call 805.687.1331.

A large animal evacuation center is open at Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real. Small animals should be taken to the county Animal Shelter, 5473 Overpass Road. As of Thursday afternoon, the Santa Barbara Humane Society shelter, 5399 Overpass Road, was full.

Maintaining water levels in reservoirs is essential for crews fighting the fire. Residents in and out of evacuation zones are asked to conserve water, and evacuees are urged to turn off their water service to avoid potential loss of water pressure in the affected areas.

Southern California Edison is asking that residents and businesses prepare for possible power outages through Thursday, and to refrain from unnecessary power use to reduce demand on the power grid.

The fire has disrupted school schedules throughout the area, with the following schools closed Thursday:

» Adams, Cesar Chavez Charter, Cleveland, Franklin, Open Alternative, Peabody Charter and Roosevelt schools in the Santa Barbara School District

» Hope and Monte Vista schools in the Hope School District

» Cold Spring School

» Community Based School

» La Colina Junior High

» Santa Barbara Middle School

» Santa Barbara High School

» Anacapa School

» Marymount of Santa Barbara

» Notre Dame School

» Both San Roque School campuses

» California Learning Center

» Santa Barbara High’s Early Years Children’s Center

» First Presbyterian Child Care Center

» Kumon Math & Reading Center

» Little Angels Preschool

» Parma Children’s Center

» Sunrise Montessori School

Antioch University is closed through Sunday, with classes resuming Monday.

Westmont remains open, officials said, and students should be prepared to take all finals as scheduled. Any changes will be posted on the Westmont Web site by 7 a.m. Thursday.

SBCC’s main campus, 721 Cliff Drive, is open Thursday and classes are in session. However, SBCC’s Continuing Education Division’s Schott Center, 310 W. Padre St. in Santa Barbara, is closed Thursday because of poor air quality.

Click here to sign up for Noozhawk’s free daily e-Bulletin.

Click here for running citizen reports from City2.0.

If you have fire photos to share with Noozhawk, e-mail them to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for a related Noozhawk slide show from the first day of the Jesusita Fire.

Click here for additional information and fire resources at sbparent.com.

The city of Santa Barbara has set up public information kiosks at four locations:

» Paseo Nuevo, at State and De la Guerra streets

» Loreto Plaza, State Street and Las Positas Road

» Scolari’s Market, 222 N. Milpas St.

» Lazy Acres, 302 Meigs Road

Click here for additional information from the city of Santa Barbara or turn to City TV-Channel 18. Radio updates can be found at KCSB-91.9 FM; KRAZ-105.9 FM; KSYV-96.7 FM; KTYD-99.9 FM; KSBL-101.7 FM; KTMS-990 AM; KUHL-1410 AM; KINF-1440 AM; and in Spanish at KSPE-94.5 FM and KIST-107.7 FM.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Noozhawk staff writers .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) contributed to this report.

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