Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 11:09 am | Mostly Cloudy 63º


Local News

Jesusita Fire: Evacuations Ordered West to Patterson

Amid powerful winds, blaze threatens San Roque area and blows past Highway 154, displacing 18,000 more residents. Flames edge toward Montecito on the east

After a night of fiery activity when “all hell broke loose,” according to interim Santa Barbara fire Chief Andrew DiMizio, officials regrouped Friday morning to talk about the day’s firefighting strategy. Sundowners and relative humidity in the single digits are expected Friday, and an effort to quell flames from the air will bring in a DC-10 air tanker, in addition to 12 fixed wing aircraft and 15 choppers to work on the 3,500-acre fire.

At 12:30 p.m. Friday, the evacuation warning area was expanded at the west end to include the area of De La Vina and Vernon, south on Vernon to Stanley, west on Stanley to Las Positas, south on Las Positas to Highway 101 and west on Highway 101 to State Street and Highway 154.

On the east end, the evacuation warning area now includes the area of Milpas south to Highway 101, Highway 101 to San Ysidro Road, San Ysidro north to Camino Cielo.

The fire is still at 10 percent containment, and Sheriff Bill Brown said it’s unlikely evacuees will be allowed to return to their homes Friday. “Weather conditions today could be problematic,” he said, adding that the group will not take any chances by repopulating neighborhoods early.

Cautious optimism was blown away by fierce 40 mph winds Thursday night as the Jesusita Fire surged west, forcing authorities to order the mandatory evacuation of all neighborhoods west to Patterson Avenue and north of Highway 101 and State Street, which included the densely populated San Roque area. Higher up the mountainside, Painted Cave also was ordered evacuated.

On the fire’s eastern flank, spectacular flames lit up the sky on the ridgeline high above West Mountain Drive east of Gibraltar Road. The fire was burning east, above where the Tea Fire raged through the Montecito foothills in November. Early Friday, no homes appeared in imminent danger but embers swirling in heavy winds had ignited a handful of spot fires on West Mountain near Sycamore Creek Lane. A Ventura County Search & Rescue team was on the scene.

Friday morning, authorities announced a new mandatory evacuation territory in western Montecito, between Gibraltar and Hot Springs roads and Highway 192 (Sycamore Canyon Road/East Valley Road) and East Camino Cielo. An evacuation warning was issued to San Ysidro Road.

As of 7:15 a.m. Friday, the areas under a mandatory evacuation order are westbound State Street between Constance Avenue and La Cumbre Road, north on La Cumbre to La Colina Road, west on La Colina to Highway 154, south on Highway 154 to Highway 101, west on the freeway to Patterson Avenue, north to San Jose Creek to West Camino Cielo. East of Constance, the boundary runs to Garden Street, Garden to Micheltorena Street, Micheltorena north to the end of the street, extending to Alameda Padre Serra and east to Sycamore Canyon and East Valley roads, north to Hot Springs Road to East Camino Cielo.

More ominously, an evacuation warning was extended early Friday to Fairview Avenue, between Highway 101 and up to and including West Camino Cielo. On the other side of the fire, evacuation warnings were issued for Alamar Avenue at De la Vina Street, west on Alamar to Junipero Street, west on Junipero to the freeway, north on the freeway to Upper State and east to Alamar. Warnings continue for De la Vina Street to Anapamu Street, Anapamu to Anacapa Street, Anacapa south to De la Guerra Street, De la Guerra to Milpas Street, Milpas south to Quinientos Street, Quinientos to Clifton Street to Eucalyptus Hill Road, Eucalyptus Hill to Barker Pass Road, Barker Pass to Sycamore Canyon Road/Highway 192, Sycamore Canyon to Stanwood Drive. Farther east a warning was declared for the area between Hot Springs and San Ysidro roads, north of East Valley Road.

Authorities advised residents in the evacuation warning areas to be prepared to leave on a moment’s notice, or sooner if they feel threatened.

At least 30,000 residents have been displaced by the nearly 3-day-old wildfire, with 18,000 of them coming in a span of about five hours Thursday night. More than 20 homes have been destroyed, but unconfirmed reports put the figure closer to 75. In addition to the flames, firefighters have been confronting extreme heat in the low 100s, very low humidity and powerful, unpredictable winds raging in all directions.

There was some good news, however. Late Thursday, lower San Roque Canyon was the scene of a fierce firefight when flames exploded near the Lauro Reservoir, where helicopters had been refilling their water tanks since the fire began. As flames moved toward the Foothill Road bridge spanning the canyon over Stevens Neighborhood Park, eyewitnesses told Noozhawk that firefighters stationed on and below the bridge were able to stop the fire in its tracks, preventing it from accessing the heart of San Roque.

At a hastily scheduled news conference around 11 p.m. Thursday, Brown called the Jesusita Fire “the worst emergency our county has faced in 25 years” in terms of resources used, rapidly changing conditions and the number of personnel battling the blaze. Brown said the fire had jumped Highway 154 and was moving into areas burned by last summer’s Gap Fire.

For Martha Lannan, who lives north of Cathedral Oaks, a mile and a half west of Highway 154, it was an eerie sense of deja vu.

“I was downtown when I saw this huge plume of smoke heading west,” said Lannan, who was forced to evacuate during the Gap Fire in July. “We thought it wise to gather up our photos and a few important papers and and our dogs, the stuff that’s important.

“It’s roaring this way,” she said at 10 p.m.

Six miles away, anxious Montecito residents were getting a similar feeling. Winds gusting to 60 mph were whipping the blaze above Rattlesnake Canyon, providing an uncomfortable view of 30-foot flames leaping toward the Tea Fire burn area, albeit high on the mountainside above Sycamore Canyon. Late Thursday, Montecito was enduring sustained winds above 40 mph and temperatures in the upper 80s. Just before 1 a.m. Friday, temperatures abruptly fell 10 degrees as the winds rose to a higher elevation. By 2 a.m., the worst of the wind appeared to be subsiding.

Earlier Thursday evening, Santa Barbara County officials had expressed relief that conditions for firefighting had been more favorable than expected and that heavy winds like the ones that occurred a day earlier had failed to materialize. As ash fell around them, they emphasized that conditions could change quickly, however, and warned residents to leave if they felt uncomfortable rather than waiting to be told to do so.

As if in defiance, the winds began intensifying soon afterward and, just before 7 p.m., authorities extended the mandatory evacuation order west to Highway 154, which was closed at Highway 101. About 8:30 p.m., wind-hurled embers began igniting spot fires across Highway 154 above Barger Canyon. Cathedrals Oaks was closed off to incoming traffic at North Turnpike, and fire trucks were stationed at Tucker’s Grove County Park around 9:30 p.m. Within an hour, the evacuation order was extended again.

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

Joe Waterman, a CALFIRE incident commander, estimated the fire’s size at 2,200 to 2,500 acres. Officials say as many as 75 structures have been damaged or destroyed in the blaze. As of Thursday night, 20 had been confirmed destroyed.

There are 2,500 firefighters, 12 air tankers and 15 helicopters battling the blaze, which ignited at 1:50 p.m. Tuesday in the Cathedral Peak area above San Roque Canyon. The fire’s cause remains under investigation, and authorities are asking anyone with information to call the county’s confidential tip line at 805.686.5074.

Residents near Dos Pueblos High School, 7266 Alameda Ave., were warned to expect noise and overflights as helicopters refill from an operations base on the campus.

A day after declaring a state of emergency for the Santa Barbara area, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday expressed support for the fire-scarred community and said federal dollars would soon be available to help with the blaze.

Because of Schwarzenegger’s declaration, the county now has access to a FEMA fire management-assistance grant, which means 75 percent of response costs can be drawn from the federal government. As of Thursday night, those costs had reached $1.8 million, officials said.

Schwarzenegger called the Jesusita Fire “a great challenge” because of the high winds plaguing containment efforts and the lack of easy access to the steep terrain in which it’s burning. Adding to the volatility are fuel sources that haven’t burned in nearly 50 years.

“We will be there for you, 100 percent,” said Schwarzenegger, who expressed sorrow that South Coast residents had to endure another destructive wildfire so close to last year’s Tea and Gap fires.

He commended the work of the crews battling the blaze, and said he would be in touch with those firefighters who were injured in the cause.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with them so that they can recuperate as quickly as possible,” he said. “We need them.”

Officials said 11 firefighters had been injured, including three Ventura County firefighters who were burned when they sheltered in a house during a firestorm. They were reported in good condition Thursday at Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks but two will need skin grafts and surgery.

At the crowded news conference at the Jesusita Fire operations base at Earl Warren Showgrounds, Schwarzenegger was asked about firefighting jobs that could be cut if voters approved the slate of budget-related initiatives on the May 19 special election ballot. He responded that public safety would always be his priority, but that even vital programs must face up to spending cuts.

“It’s very clear that if the initiatives fail, there will be $16 billion less than what’s available,” he said. “But I will fight for every dollar to make sure we have enough engines and manpower and helicopters to fight these fires.”

The May 19 ballot contains six measures proposed by Schwarzenegger and the Legislature. The package deal is part of an effort to close perennially cash-strapped California’s $42 billion budget shortfall.

Addressing a Santa Barbara news conference before touring the Jesusita Fire area, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to
Addressing a Santa Barbara news conference before touring the Jesusita Fire area, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to “fight for every dollar to make sure we have enough engines and manpower and helicopters to fight these fires.” (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

“By all counts, there should have been hundreds,” said Santa Barbara County fire Chief Tom Franklin, referring to Wednesday’s ferocious winds and the abundance of fuel.

Franklin said there had been some “real saves” by firefighters, and he also gave credit to the residents who provided defensible space around their homes.

Santa Barbara Fire Battalion Chief Pat McElroy said residents may be allowed back into their neighborhoods as the fire danger passes and safety can be assured. He said that announcement could come within the next 24 hours.

Late Thursday, the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter announced that its emergency shelter at Dos Pueblos High had reached its capacity and that a second shelter has been opened at the UCSB Multiactivity Center on Ocean Road off Highway 217. The Dos Pueblos shelter had 110 people stay overnight Wednesday, with another 30 people sleeping in their cars in the school’s parking lot. Click here for more information or call 805.687.1331.

Brown said the sheriff’s Search and Rescue team located 13 seventh- and eighth-grade students and their teacher who had been hiking in Los Padres National Forest above Ojai on Wednesday, and brought them to safety. Using night-vision equipment, Search and Rescue also located three hikers who were overdue and were expected to pick them up Thursday.

Brown expressed sympathy for residents who want to return to their homes as soon as possible, but he called the fire “very unpredictable.”

“We will get people back in as soon as it is safe to do so,” he said.

Although no problems have been reported with the evacuations, Santa Barbara police Capt. Frank Mannix said officers had stopped several “curiosity seekers,” and he reminded the public that entering an area under evacuation is a misdemeanor.

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

» Adams, Cesar Chavez Charter, Cleveland, Franklin, Open Alternative, Peabody Charter and Roosevelt schools, Santa Barbara Community Academy and Home School Santa Barbara on the Monte Vista School campus in the Santa Barbara Elementary School District

» Community Day, La Colina Junior High, La Cumbre Junior High, Santa Barbara Junior High, San Marcos High and Santa Barbara High schools in the Santa Barbara High School District

» All schools in the Goleta Union School District

» Hope and Monte Vista schools in the Hope School District

» Cold Spring School

» Anacapa School

» Bishop Diego High

» Community Based School

» Crane County Day School

» El Puente Community School of Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara County Education Office program)

» Goleta Valley Junior High

» Both Laguna Blanca School campuses

» Marymount of Santa Barbara

» Montecito Union School

» Notre Dame School

» Olive Grove Charter School

» Both San Roque School campuses

» Santa Barbara Charter School

» Santa Barbara Middle School

» Summit High School (Santa Barbara County Education Office program)

» Waldorf School of Santa Barbara

» California Learning Center

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

» El Montecito Presbyterian Early School

» First Presbyterian Child Care Center

» Kumon Math & Reading Center

» Little Angels Preschool

» Parma Children’s Center

» Sunrise Montessori School

» Antioch University

» Westmont College is being evacuated Friday morning, and law-enforcement officers will escort parents to campus to retrieve students and belongings until noon. The school will announce plans for baccalaureate as soon as possible.

» SBCC, the Wake Center and the Continuing Education Division’s Schott Center

The county’s Calle Real campus — which is in the mandatory evacuation area and is home to the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, Public Health and Social Services departments and other agencies — will be closed Friday. Employees have been instructed to work from home but public services will not be available.

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.

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

» Paseo Nuevo

» Loreto Plaza, State Street and Las Positas Road

» Scolari’s Market, 222 N. Milpas St.

» Lazy Acres, 302 Meigs Road

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

Click here for a live Jesusita Fire video feed from Make It Work.

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 a related Noozhawk slide show from the second day of the fire.

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

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