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La Brea Fire: Ash Blankets South Coast as Blaze Grows

Evacuation orders are expanded while a new fire ignites near Los Alamos; ash continues to fall in most of the county

Towering clouds of smoke and brown haze could be seen in almost every direction in the North County on Thursday as the La Brea Fire continued to expand and a new blaze broke out near Los Alamos. Powdery white ash blanketed the South Coast, meanwhile.
Towering clouds of smoke and brown haze could be seen in almost every direction in the North County on Thursday as the La Brea Fire continued to expand and a new blaze broke out near Los Alamos. Powdery white ash blanketed the South Coast, meanwhile.  (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

Under heavy brown clouds, white ash continued to fall on the South Coast on Friday as the La Brea Fire, now at more than 67,000 acres, raged out of control in Los Padres National Forest east of Santa Maria. Fire resources were diverted Thursday afternoon to battle a 100-acre blaze north of Los Alamos.

The fire is now estimated at 67,092 acres, according to information posted on about 11:30 a.m. Friday.

The number of personnel fighting the fire is 1,859. Ninety engines, 59 fire crews, 25 bulldozers, 11 helicopters and 26 water tenders were being utilized in the blaze as of Friday morning, officials announced.

The La Brea Fire’s steady expansion forced the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department to issue a mandatory evacuation order Thursday for all residents of Tepusquet Canyon, from Santa Maria Mesa Road to Highway 166. Also under a mandatory evacuation order were all of Colson Canyon, including the Blazing Saddles community, and all of Ruiz Canyon, officials said.

Authorities estimated the new evacuation orders included about 150 homes and ranches. All previous evacuation orders and warnings remain in effect for the 6-day-old fire, which had blackened 48,457 acres by nightfall Thursday. It remains at 10 percent containment, officials said.

There will be another community meeting tonight, August 14, at 6:30 p.m. at the Benjamin Foxen Elementary School, 4949 Foxen Canyon Road, in Sisquoc.

Meanwhile, a brush fire broke out near Los Alamos at 1:20 p.m. Thursday on ranch land west of Highway 101, near Palmer Road. There were no injuries and no structures were damaged, county fire officials said, and the 100-acre fire is expected to be contained Friday morning. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The cause of the La Brea Fire also remains under investigation and U.S. Forest Service investigators are seeking the public’s help. Investigators have spoken to witnesses, but are seeking additional information about a tan- or gold-colored 2004-05 Chevy van that was last seen on Sierra Madre Road on Saturday afternoon. Anyone who was in that general area at the time or who has other information about the origin of the fire is urged to call investigators at 805.686.5074. Callers may remain anonymous.

Firefighting conditions remain difficult because of steep, largely inaccessible terrain and dry, dense chaparral that has not burned in nearly 90 years. Complicating matters are low relative humidity and erratic winds.

An evacuation order remains in effect for the 14 threatened residences on Foothill Road and the seven residences on the Buckhorne Ridge. An evacuation warning was issued via reverse notification calls through the 9-1-1 system to the 104 residences in Cottonwood Canyon.

Cuyama Valley High School, 4500 Highway 166 in New Cuyama, and Benjamin Foxen School, 4949 Foxen Canyon Road in Sisquoc, have been designated temporary emergency shelters staffed by the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter. Small animals are allowed. A large animal shelter is available at the Santa Maria Fair Park, 937 S. Thornburg St.. Call 805.681.4332 for more information.

The blaze is receiving air support from three helibases: One at Santa Ynez Airport, one at Santa Maria Airport and a supply helibase at the Incident Command Post. A retardant base is at Spanish Ranch in Cuyama Valley, and a portable retardant plant is being set up in Pine Canyon. Structure protection resources are positioned near the homes that are under evacuation orders.

The county Public Health Department and the Air Pollution Control District reissued an air-quality watch for Santa Barbara County at 1:30 p.m. Friday. Residents are urged to be aware of increased ash falling, particularly in the North County, but also through most of the region.

The air-quality watch will remain effective through Monday, health officials said Friday.

Ash particles are an irritant, and as time passes, they are broken up into smaller particles that can be stirred up into the air, producing localized areas of poor air quality.

A thick layer of smoke covered the entire Santa Ynez Valley on Thursday afternoon, after winds carried the smoke southward overnight Wednesday. White smoke drifted high on afternoon breezes while darker, gray-brown smoke covered the base of the Santa Ynez Mountain range, hiding all but the lowest elevations by late afternoon. The ash began falling on Santa Barbara and Goleta on Thursday afternoon and continued through the night.

Click here for the latest fire information or call 805.961.5770 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Bill on Twitter: @noozhawk.

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(Ray Ford map)

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