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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 11:35 pm | A Few Clouds 50º


Wildfire North of Los Olivos Jumps to 1,300 Acres

Aerial assault to resume at daybreak as crews reach remote site of rapidly spreading blaze

A wildfire has burned more than 1,300 acres in the remote San Rafael Wilderness of Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara County officials said Saturday. No structures are threatened by the rapidly growing La Brea Fire, which is located about 10 miles north of Los Olivos. A cause was not reported.

Smoke from the fire drifted into the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys. Joey Ramirez of Ventura, who was visiting Lake Cachuma with his family Saturday afternoon, told Noozhawk that “a towering cloud of brown smoke seemed to be drifting south toward the lake.” By 7 p.m., high haze could be seen over Goleta and Santa Barbara.

Ominous brown sky was not a welcome sight for fire-wary South Coast residents. In an e-mail to Noozhawk, Santa Barbara resident Corina Maclaine said she thought “not again” when she noticed the cloud.

“We were evacuated in the Gap and Jesusita fires and my first thought was ‘not again,’” she wrote. “Hopefully, this will stay away from populated areas.”

The La Brea Fire is north of the 2007 Zaca Fire burn area. That fire ignited on July 4, 2007, and burned all summer, scorching more than 240,000 backcountry acres. Almost one year later, the Gap Fire was sparked in the mountains above Goleta and burned 8,800 acres. In November 2008, the 2,000-acre Tea Fire erupted in the Montecito foothills, destroying 230 homes. That was followed by May’s Jesusita Fire, which ignited above San Roque, destroyed 77 homes and led to the mandatory evacuation of more than 30,000 area residents.

Authorities said Saturday night that ground crews had reached the La Brea Fire, which was reported at 2:45 p.m. about 1.5 miles south of Sierra Madre Ridge near Horse and Water canyons. The rugged area is about 10 miles east of Tepusquet Peak and six miles south of Highway 166.

About 150 fire personnel are involved in the battle, and officials said that number is expected to grow Sunday. The U.S. Forest Service said eight fixed-wing air tankers, four helicopters and a heli-tanker had been deployed as of Saturday evening, and that the aircraft would resume flying at daybreak.

In addition to the challenges of a remote location and inaccessible terrain, wilderness regulations ban all vehicles, including bulldozers and fire engines, and mechanized equipment such as chainsaws, unless special permission is granted.

The weather is likely to be a further complication as Sunday’s backcountry temperatures are expected to be in the upper 90s, with very low humidity.

County spokesman William Boyer said Los Padres National Forest would be taking the lead in providing updates, which can be obtained at 805.961.5770. Information also is available on the county Fire Department’s information line at 805.681.5546.

With fire-season conditions becoming more dangerous, Los Padres officials have strengthened forest restrictions. As of last week:

» Smoking is prohibited in all areas of the national forest except within an enclosed vehicle, building or campfire use site.

» Recreational target shooting is prohibited in all areas of the forest except at the Winchester Canyon Gun Club, 6621 W. Camino Cielo, and the Ojai Valley Gun Club. Hunting with a valid California hunting license is exempt from this restriction.

Fire restrictions previously in place include:

» Open fires, campfires or charcoal fires are allowed only in campfire use sites. Campfires must be attended at all times and must be extinguished completely before departure.

» Portable stoves and lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel are allowed in areas other than campfire use sites, but only with a valid California Campfire Permit. Campfire permits are available free-of-charge at any Forest Service office. All flammable material must be cleared for a distance of five feet in all directions from camp stoves, a shovel must be available, and a responsible person must attend the stove at all times when it is in use.

» Internal combustion engines may be operated only on roads or trails that are designated for such use. (This restriction is in effect year-round.) Motorists must have an approved spark arrester.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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