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Local News

Evacuation Orders, Warnings Downgraded in La Brea Fire

The investigation continues after the cause of the blaze was traced to the campsite of an marijuana-growing operation

Fire commanders announced overall progress on the 11-day-old La Brea Fire as crews made the final push toward containment and, effective at noon Tuesday, additional evacuation orders and warnings were downgraded.

Evacuation warnings were rescinded Tuesday for three areas, including:

» The Pine Canyon area. Northern boundary: Pine Canyon Road (Forest Service Road 11N04) from Highway 166 to Horseshoe Springs Campground; eastern boundary: Forest Trail 31W12; southern boundary: Buckhorn Canyon Road (Forest Service Road 11N06); and western boundary: Highway 166

» The Tepusquet Canyon area. All of Tepusquet Canyon, from Santa Maria Mesa Road to Highway 166; all of Colson Canyon and the Blazing Saddles community; and all of Ruiz Canyon.

» The area bounded by Cottonwood Road and Wasioja Road between Highway 166 and Sierra Madre Road.

The evacuation order was changed to an evacuation warning for Sierra Madre Road on the western boundary, Cottonwood Road on the south, Highway 166 on the east and Spoor Canyon on the northern boundary.

Firefighters in the Cottonwood Canyon area directly attacked the blaze at its edge Monday night, and a line from the Sierra Madre Ridge to the bottom of the Schoolhouse Canyon drainage, a major component of the containment strategy, will be completed Tuesday, officials said. The fire had crossed some drainage areas south of Sierra Madre Ridge on Monday and made some uphill runs. Aerial attacks were used to reduce the intensity of the flare-ups.

Hotshot crews in the San Rafael Wilderness have made progress working from the south to the north on the eastern side of the fire, and hot spots were cooled near the fire edge from the Sisquoc River to an area just west of Water Canyon campground.

Officials said Tuesday that the La Brea Fire’s acreage had reached 88,650 with containment holding steady at 75 percent. The number of personnel on scene was 1,760.

On Saturday, authorities announced that they had traced the cause of the fire to a cooking fire in the campsite of an illegal marijuana-growing operation. No arrests have been made, but it was believed that the suspects were still within the San Rafael Wilderness, trying to leave the area on foot. Officials have issued a warning not to approach anyone who looks suspicious but to instead contact authorities.

According to a joint statement Saturday night by the U.S. Forest Service and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, there is evidence that the unburned marijuana garden area had been occupied after the La Brea Fire ignited. The Narcotics Unit has secured the camp, which was located in remote and rugged terrain.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is urged to call the La Brea Fire tip line at 805.686.5074. Callers may remain anonymous.

Also on Saturday, a Martin Mars super scooper airplane made a historic “landing” at Lake Cachuma. The aircraft — the world’s largest scooping water bomber, with a wingspan of 200 feet and a payload of 7,200 gallons — had been using Lake San Antonio north of Paso Robles since midweek.

Meanwhile, evacuation orders issued by the sheriff’s department remain in effect. The Tepusquet Road and Buckhorn Ridge areas are now open, but are still under an evacuation warning.

Ash from the fire is continuing to spread throughout the county and an air-quality watch was reissued Tuesday and remains in effect at least through Wednesday.

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

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

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