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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 11:56 am | Mostly Cloudy 63º


Jesusita Fire: Officials ‘Guardedly Optimistic’

Firefighters catch a break in the weather but evacuation orders remain in effect with high winds expected into the evening

Powerful sundowner winds failed to materialize Tuesday evening, giving firefighters a crucial opportunity to protect neighborhoods threatened by the Jesusita Fire. They used the time to ensure the orderly evacuation of 1,200 homes north of Foothill Road. At a midday news conference Wednesday, however, officials expressed concern about high winds that could occur later in the afternoon and evening.

Eric Boldt, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, told Noozhawk that winds of up to 60 mph are expected into the evening with relative humidity possibly dipping into the teens.

“The sundowners tend to make a situation like this very chaotic,” said Boldt, adding that the fire is in a rugged area where its fuel has not burned for 30 to 40 years.

The blaze, which ignited just before 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Cathedral Peak area above San Roque Canyon, officially has claimed 196 acres, Santa Barbara County fire Chief Tom Franklin said during Wednesday morning’s news conference. He said earlier reports of more than 400 acres burned had been miscalculations because of thick smoke that hindered aerial visibility.

There is no estimate of containment yet.

Six fixed-wing airplanes are expected to be working the fire Wednesday, along with five helicopters and 15 hand crews. In all, there are 884 firefighters on the scene. The Jesusita Fire is competing for resources with wildfires in Arizona, where several of the tanker aircraft had been deployed, Franklin said. No federal aircraft have arrived on the scene, but they are expected soon. The air base in Santa Maria, about 60 miles from the fire, also has been opened as a reload station for aircraft.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Authorities are asking anyone with information to call the county’s confidential tip line at 805.686.5074.

The priority remains keeping the fire away from neighborhoods, Franklin said.

“The best idea is to get out when you can,” he advised residents living within evacuation areas.

Sheriff’s Cmdr. Darren Fotheringham said 60 law enforcement officers were working to keep Foothill Road traffic organized during the evacuation. The road, also known as Highway 192, remains closed between El Cielito and La Cumbre roads as emergency crews move about. Sheriff Bill Brown said officers have not had any problems with residents refusing to evacuate.

Tuesday night’s evacuation orders remain in effect for all neighborhoods north of Foothill, between Ontare Road and Morada Lane on the west and El Cielito and Gibraltar roads to East Camino Cielo on the east.

Santa Barbara interim Fire Chief Andrew DeMizio said he was “guardedly optimistic” about the fire’s outcome and said no structures had been lost during the night. The evacuations were orderly, and the fire was exhibiting “predictable behavior.” One minor injury has been reported.

Audio: Jesusita Fire morning press conference

DeMizio cautioned, however, that the potential for catastrophe was still present and that “things could change rapidly.”

Franklin said the Jesusita Fire differs from the Tea Fire in mid-November because the Montecito blaze occurred at the end of high fire season, when there was heavy, extremely volatile brush to fuel it. That fire also was propelled by winds of up to 70 mph.

The Jesusita Fire, he said, has not seen those types of winds and the moisture in the fuel the fire has been consuming has been relatively high. Winds were reported around 10 mph Wednesday morning, he said, which creates an opportune time for firefighters.

Heavy smoke from the blaze had been blamed for intermittent power outages Tuesday, and Franklin said there had been no problems reported Wednesday. But he cautioned that “residents should always prepare for outages.”

Click here for a related Noozhawk slide show from the first day of the Jesusita Fire.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

With calm weather and sights like this, firefighters had reason for optimism about the direction the Jesusita Fire was taking early Wednesday. Still, officials warned that conditions were unstable and advised vigilance.
With calm weather and sights like this, firefighters had reason for optimism about the direction the Jesusita Fire was taking early Wednesday. Still, officials warned that conditions were unstable and advised vigilance. (David Sadecki / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

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