Sunday, February 25 , 2018, 1:43 pm | Fair 61º


Local News

La Brea Fire: 14 Ranches Under Evacuation Order

The Red Cross opens a shelter in Santa Maria as the remote blaze grows to more than 20,000 acres

As crews continued to fight the La Brea Fire from the air and on the ground, an evacuation warning issued Tuesday morning was upgraded to an evacuation order by the afternoon for 14 occupied ranches in the area.

The evacuation order, issued by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and effective at 2 p.m., is bounded by Sierra Madre Road to the west, Cottonwood Road to the south, Highway 166 to the east and Spoor Canyon to the north. The area includes Moon and Eckert canyons.

Fire officials contacted the ranches Monday night, and residents began moving livestock as necessary Tuesday. The majority of the area is lightly populated, officials said.

In addition, the evacuation warning area now includes areas bounded by Cottonwood and Wasioja roads, from Highway 166 to Sierra Madre Road. An evacuation warning means people in the area need to be prepared to leave.

The American Red Cross, Santa Barbara County Chapter has opened a shelter at Benjamin Foxen School, 4949 Foxen Canyon Road in Santa Maria.

By Tuesday morning, the remote blaze had burned 20,622 acres of the San Rafael Wilderness. It was 10 percent contained. Personnel on scene totaled 1,062, according to officials.

The dense, 87-year-old chapparal and moderate to rapid rates of spread challenge firefighting efforts, fire officials said.

California Interagency Incident Management Team 3, under Incident Commander Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, took command of the fire early Monday morning.

Crews on scene came from multiple agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the Ventura County Fire Department, CAL FIRE, the sheriff’s department, Vandenberg Air Force Base, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. More crew members were expected to arrive on scene in the coming days, officials said.

As of Tuesday morning, 23 engines, 34 crews, 12 bulldozers and nine helicopters were actively fighting the fire, officials said. The Martin Mars air tanker, among the largest air tankers with a capacity of 7,200 gallons and 22 individual drop doors, will assist the firefighting effort Tuesday.

Officials urged motorists to use caution when traveling on Highway 166, as firefighting equipment continued to traverse the road to gain entrance to properties near the fire. On Tuesday, officials said fire crews would continue to focus on Moon Canyon and Sierra Madre Ridge.

Crews and engines were attacking a “slop-over” portion of the fire on Sierra Ridge on Monday night, officials said, adding that existing dozer lines from the Zaca Fire along the Triplet Fuelbreak, and Peach Tree and Sierra Madre ridges were being utilized as fire lines.

Forest Service fire management officer Dana D’Andrea told Noozhawk on Monday that he has worked in forests in Montana, where “lit burn’’ policies let naturally caused fires burn unchecked while fire officials keep watch to be sure the fires don’t threaten homes or structures. But because fires in Southern California have a history of covering miles of terrain within a matter of hours, D’Andrea said California firefighting agencies do not take any chances.

“We in Southern California are bound to suppress all fires,” he said.

Article Image
(Los Padres National Forest map)

D’Andrea said the aircraft that ground observers see is being utilized in strategic locations, and that the fire is burning in vegetation that hasn’t burned since 1922. “You can’t even walk through this stuff,” he said, referring to the heavy undergrowth, and that the amount of chaparral requires air drops, as well as hand crews working on the fire lines.

An emergency closure order was issued Tuesday for all Forest Service lands surrounding the La Brea Fire. The order prohibits public entry to all national forest lands, trails, roads and recreation sites within the area. For more information, click here or call 805.681.5770.

The cause of the La Brea Fire remains unknown, he said, but there are old trails that permeate the canyon, and investigators are considering whether a hunter or camper accidentally started the blaze. Anyone with information about the cause is asked to call the La Brea Fire Tip Line at 805.686.5074.

There’s a lot of cooperation among agencies that team up to fight fires, D’Andrea said, adding that the county sent its helicopter when the La Brea Fire first broke out and was the first piece of equipment on scene.

The smoke drifting west and south from the La Brea Fire covered most of the Santa Ynez Valley Tuesday afternoon, giving the air in the towns of Solvang, Los Olivos and Santa Ynez a soft, orange glow.

Along Highway 246 west of Buellton, a large bank of smoke drifted southwest across the northern Lompoc Valley, creating an eerie backdrop behind the typical early-evening fog as the sun dropped in the sky.

Typical August weather was forecast for the remainder of the week, with hot and dry conditions and temperatures from 80 to 90 degrees on the ridges to up to 100 degrees at lower elevations, officials said Monday night.

Winemakers and grape growers in the eastern Santa Maria Valley kept tabs on the fire Monday, but weren’t overly worried about the falling ash — or the chance that the flames could damage the vineyards.

“At this time, there is very little concern about the fire reaching the vineyards in the eastern areas of the Santa Maria Valley,’’ said Kady Fleckenstein, executive director of Santa Maria Valley Wine Country, an association for growers, winemakers and wine-related businesses in the Santa Maria Valley.

“Managers will stay vigilant, but currently are not taking any precautions other than staying up-to-date with the latest news,’’ she said.

The vineyards nearest the fire’s southern and western flanks, as the crow flies, are Colson Canyon Vineyard, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Byron Vineyards & Winery, Bien Nacido Vineyards and North Canyon Vineyard.

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

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