Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 3:58 pm | Fair 67º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Jesusita Fire: Schwarzenegger Says State Has Santa Barbara’s Back

Governor says response funding is on its way while South Coast braces for another afternoon of high winds

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 in the battle against the 2-day-old Jesusita Fire.

Because of Schwarzenegger’s declaration, Santa Barbara 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.

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.

The fire has officially claimed 1,300 acres, authorities said at Thursday’s joint news conference with Schwarzenegger. At least 20 houses have been reported destroyed and about 12,000 people remain under evacuation orders north of Foothill Road/Highway 192 between El Cielito and Ontare roads.

“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 1,400 local, state and federal firefighters 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.”

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.

After Schwarzenegger left the podium, Santa Barbara County fire Chief Tom Franklin spoke about what residents can expect from the Jesusita Fire on Thursday.

“Today is probably going to be a repeat, as far as weather goes,” said Franklin, noting that wind patterns and speeds will determine the placement of crews.

The east and west sides of the fire are actively burning, he said, and hand crews were urgently working on those areas. Those crews are the most vulnerable because they usually work a far distance from the safety of a vehicle, and Franklin said they would be pulled out as wind velocity grows as expected.

Winds will most likely pick up in midafternoon Thursday, he said, adding that fire crews in several areas recorded winds of up to 70 mph Wednesday night.

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.

Sheriff Bill Brown said the largest evacuations occurred Wednesday, when nearly 14,000 people were included in the temporarily expanded mandatory evacuation area. That area was relaxed a bit late Wednesday, however, and about 1,200 people were allowed back to their homes below Mission Canyon and the front side of the Riviera.

The American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter emergency shelter at Dos Pueblos High School, 7266 Alameda Ave., had 96 people signed in Wednesday night, Brown said, and an additional 30 people slept 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.

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 next Jesusita Fire news conference is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday.

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 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).

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

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