Wednesday, April 25 , 2018, 11:49 am | Overcast with Haze 57º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Lookout Fire Near Painted Cave Declared Fully Contained

Aggressive attack and favorable weather helped firefighters corral the blaze a day sooner than expected

[Noozhawk’s note: Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery of the fire.]

Charred hillsides on Thursday show the burn area from the Lookout Fire near Painted Cave, which threatened homes and prompted evacuations Wednesday. (Suzanne Farwell photo)
Charred hillsides on Thursday show the burn area from the Lookout Fire near Painted Cave, which threatened homes and prompted evacuations Wednesday. (Suzanne Farwell photo)

Firefighters have declared the Lookout Fire fully contained, a day after the 44-acre blaze threatened some 100 homes and forced evacuations in the mountaintop Painted Cave community above Santa Barbara.

Overnight, the containment figure had jumped to 75 percent, and full containment was announced at 5 p.m. Thursday by the U.S. Forest Service.

The area burned — originally estimated at 25 acres — was revised upward to 44 acres, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen said Thursday morning.

Full containment means fire lines have been built around the entire blaze.

The Forest Service’s InciWeb website gave this update Thursday evening:

“There was no spread of the fire today…Crews will continue to patrol and monitor the fire tonight.”

Hand crews, assisted from the air by water-dropping helicopters, spent Thursday building and improving containment lines, Madsen said, with the biggest focus on the southeast flank of the fire.

Sustained winds of 20 mph were expected Thursday, but the gustiest conditions were likely near the upper reaches of the fire, where the most containment work already has taken place, Madsen said.

As darkness fell Wednesday, firefighters battling the blaze in the mountaintop Painted Cave area above Santa Barbara breathed a small sigh of relief.

Potentially-gusty winds predicted for the afternoon — which could have whipped up the blaze into a major conflagration — never really materialized, allowing fire crews to continue building containment lines through the chaparral to corral the wildfire that threatened homes and forced evacuations in Painted Cave.

Lookout Fire Incident Commander Mark vonTillow speaks at a news conference late Wednesday afternoon as Fire Chief Michael Dyer, left, and Sheriff Bill Brown look on. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
Lookout Fire Incident Commander Mark vonTillow speaks at a news conference late Wednesday afternoon as Fire Chief Michael Dyer, left, and Sheriff Bill Brown look on. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

At the height of the fire, which broke out about 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, as many as 100 structures were threatened, and evacuations were ordered for some 40 homes in and around the eclectic, rural community, said Capt. David Sadecki of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Residents were allowed back into their neighborhood at 5 p.m., although others were still prohibited from entering the area, according to Sheriff Bill Brown, who spoke at a late-afternoon press conference at the command center on East Camino Cielo Road.

Incident Commander Mark vonTillow of the U.S. Forest Service and Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Michael Dyer also provided updates at the press conference, with Dyer telling reporters there had been conflicting reports about whether gusty winds would occur overnight.

As a precaution, some 150 firefighters were expected to remain on watch until Thursday morning, he said.

“We’re very concerned, and we’re keeping a lot of resources here,” Dyer said.

Fire officials at one point estimated the area burned at 50-75 acres, but at Wednesday’s press conference, officials said the affected area was around 25 acres. That was revised upward Thursday morning.

Fire officials planned to conduct flyovers on Thursday morning with infrared cameras to determine how much actually had burned. 

Dyer also stressed that county fire’s two helicopters had responded as part of the air attack within 12 minutes of the call.

For most of the day, flames were spreading at a slow rate, and fire commanders were aggressively deploying hand crews to cut fuel breaks through the steep and rocky terrain.

From the air, four firefighting helicopters made water drops, Sadecki said, along with air tankers laying down dumps of red-orange fire retardant.

The initial deployment of air tankers was delayed, Sadecki said, because the tanker base normally is not staff until 10 a.m., and people had to be called in early.

A total of 16 fire engines were assigned to the blaze, assisted by four water tenders, four bulldozers and four hand crews, Sadecki said. Additional hand crews and engines from out of the area were brought in as well, he said.

While progress was made throughout the day in containing the blaze, incident commanders were worried about the weather, with concern for possible gusty conditions in the afternoon.

A water-dropping helicopter passes over the Lookout Fire, which has charred 44 acres in the Painted Cave area, threatening homes and forcing evacuations. (Fritz Olenberger photo)
A water-dropping helicopter passes over the Lookout Fire, which has charred 44 acres in the Painted Cave area, threatening homes and forcing evacuations. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

“The fire is holding at 15 acres due to the fire bumping up against a rocky outcropping and defensible space that was provided by home owners in the area,” Sadecki said. “The fire is currently a backing fire. Crews are providing structure protection and trying to establish control lines. One concern is that the fire will move from a slope driven fire to a wind driven fire with the onset of predicted afternoon winds.”

Temperatures in the fire area during the afternoon were in the upper-80s and low-90s, with very low humidity, and the National Weather Service issued a special weather statement warning of heightened fire danger.

“The very warm and dry conditions, coupled with offshore breezes and very dry fuels, will bring elevated fire danger to the Southland through Thursday,” the NWS said.

At the peak, some 300 fire personnel were assigned to the incident, Madsen said.

Two firefighters have been injured — a CalFire inmate who suffered a minor leg injury Wednesday, and another firefighter who had a heat-related injury, Madsen said.

Video from television news helicopters out of Los Angeles showed flames burning in the steep canyons, with helicopters dropping water and aerial bombers laying down lines of retardant along the ridgelines.

A plume of smoke rises from a vegetation fire threatening homes and prompting evacuations Wednesday in the Painted Cave mountaintop community above Santa Barbara. (Daniel Levy photo)
A plume of smoke rises from a vegetation fire threatening homes and prompting evacuations Wednesday in the Painted Cave mountaintop community above Santa Barbara. (Daniel Levy photo)

Sadecki noted that power lines were down in the area, but Southern California Edison crews were on scene, and had de-energize the lines. Sadecki added that the power lines were not believed to be the cause of the fire.

The cause of the blaze, which began near the summit of San Marcos Pass Road, was under investigation, Sadecki said.

Fire crews from Santa Barbara County, the city of Santa Barbara, CalFire, Montecito, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and Los Padres National Forest were battling the flames, Sadecki said.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for much of Painted Cave, which is nestled on the ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Members of the Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue Team went door to door to alert residents of the danger and tell them to evacuate, Sadecki said.

Emergency radio traffic indicated that homes being threatened were in the Rim Road, Glenn Road, and Lookout Road areas, which are perched on the mountainside, but there were no reports of structures damaged. There also were reports of structures threatened in the Laurel Springs area.

Structure-protection teams were put in place in the threatened areas, and as of early afternoon, no structures had been damaged, Sadecki said.

Warnings were issued for residents of the Trout Club and Hidden Valley communities down the hill from Painted Cave, but no evacuations were ordered there.

Highway 154 was closed at the summit, and also at the base of the grade on the Santa Barbara side, on and off throughout the day, but was open by mid-afternoon.

Most local roads in the area remained closed, and the public was being urged to avoid the area. Residents in the evacuation were being allowed in with CHP escorts.

The American Red Cross set up an evacuation center at the Wake Center, 300 N. Turnpike Road, but it was closed once the evacuation order was lifted.

Animal Control officials were on scene to assist with evacuating pets and livestock, and animals were being sheltered at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara.

The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District issued an alert Wednesday afternoon for southern and central Santa Barbara County, indicating that air quality may be poor in some areas due to smoke and ash from the fire.

Noozhawk‘s Lara Cooper reported from the scene and contributed to this story.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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