Sunday, February 25 , 2018, 12:24 am | Fair 48º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Alamo Fire Jumps Containment Lines, Grows to Nearly 24,000 Acres East of Santa Maria

Firefighting force tops 1,000 personnel with more on the way; evacuations continue for residents and animals

A large fire whirl develops with erratic winds in a photo taken from Tepesquet Road east of Santa Maria on Saturday.
A large fire whirl develops with erratic winds in a photo taken from Tepesquet Road east of Santa Maria on Saturday. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

The Alamo Fire has grown to 23,867 acres as of Sunday morning after exploding Saturday afternoon when it again jumped containment lines east of Santa Maria.

Aircraft and hundreds of firefighters battled the fast-moving vegetation fire, which has burned insatiably since Friday morning, when it reportedly was at 175 acres.

Some members of the firefighting force, including most aircraft, were diverted Saturday afternoon to the Whittier Fire raging near Lake Cachuma, about 35 miles to the southeast.

Late Saturday, a Los Padres National Forest hot shot crew vehicle and a private vehicle collided on Santa Maria Mesa Road near Andrew Street east of Au Bon Climat Winery. Two people suffered minor injuries in the crash, but one vehicle hit a power pole so Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was called out to make repairs.

Firefighters are coping with a Red Flag Warning — high temperatures, extremely low humidity, some wind — combined with remote, steep terrain and dry heavy vegetation, Cal Fire public information officer Chris Elms said.

“With the rain this year, it brought up that grass crop that is like a fuse for the fire,” he said. “It’s moving extremely fast through that grass and into the heavy vegetation.”

The Alamo Fire area last burned in the 1950s, further complicating the battle.

“It’s definitely been a long time,” Elms added.

Late Saturday, mandatory evacuations remained for Tepusquet Road from Blazing Saddle Drive to Santa Maria Mesa Road, Blazing Saddle Drive and White Rock Lane, plus Colson and Pine canyons, Buckhorn Ridge and White Rock Road, as the fire moved south.

About 200 homes are within the evacuation area, according to Cal Fire San Luis Obispo, and the fire was 10-percent contained as of 7 a.m. Sunday.

Fire-scarred hills loom over a vineyard east of Santa Maria. The Alamo Fire had burned at least 19,000 acres as of Saturday. Click to view larger
Fire-scarred hills loom over a vineyard east of Santa Maria. The Alamo Fire had burned at least 19,000 acres as of Saturday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A local unified command team of Cal Fire and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department has led the battle, but an incident management team from Cal Fire is expected to take over Sunday.

The firefighting force reached 1,000 personnel as of early Saturday afternoon and was expected to grow by Sunday with newcomers to be assigned to various segments of the firefighting line.

“It’s quite a planning and strategy task to get all these folks on the same page doing the same thing, with the fire progressing and with the weather changing,” Fire Inspector Ryan DiGuilio of the Santa Barbara Fire Department said.

“It’s a lot of moving pieces of the puzzle.”

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The American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast Chapter opened an evacuation center at the Minami Community Center, 600 W. Enos Drive in Santa Maria. Six people stayed at the shelter Friday night.

One evacuated resident showed up there Saturday evening, saying he was told — apparently incorrectly — that an informational meeting would occur there. The man, who declined to give his name, expressed frustration at the lack of information for residents and the fact aircraft were diverted from the Alamo Fire to other fires Saturday.

Elms said the incident commander continuously assesses the needs of the existing wildfire along with other blazes, and determined that the aerial resources would be more effective for the Whittier Fire near Cachuma.

Fire Inspector Ryan DiGuilio of the Santa Barbara Fire Department talks about the Alamo Fire at the Incident Command Post set up at the Santa Maria rodeo grounds. Click to view larger
Fire Inspector Ryan DiGuilio of the Santa Barbara Fire Department talks about the Alamo Fire at the Incident Command Post set up at the Santa Maria rodeo grounds. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“The principle is throw everything you have at the small one and keep it small, and this one is going to grow pretty much regardless at this point,” he said.

The Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center at 4040 Highway 101 was designated as the shelter for evacuated large animals, while the Santa Maria Animal Shelter, 548 W. Foster Road, was available to house small animals, Santa Barbara County Animal Services announced.

This weekend, the Santa Maria rodeo grounds was hosting the Californio Bridle Horse Association, which intended to finish its activity by Saturday night and leave Sunday, in time for the anticipated growth of the fire camp.

“They’ve got as much as they need right now,” said Tina Tonascia, chief operations officer for the Elks Rodeo organization. “As they need more, we’re clearing it. Everybody’s working together as a team. It’s been great.”

Meanwhile, officials expected more evacuated animals could show up as the fire grew Saturday.

“We’re prepared,” added Stacy Silva from Santa Barbara County Animal Services.

“The volunteers have gotten the pens ready,” she said. “The troughs are filled with water. The feed buckets are here. Everything’s here. We’re ready.”

Small animals, essentially dogs and cats, can be taken to the Santa Maria Animal Center.

The Alamo Fire burned at least 19,000 acres off Highway 166 east of Santa Maria with flames blowing through canyons and visible from the Santa Maria Valley farm fields. Click to view larger
The Alamo Fire burned at least 19,000 acres off Highway 166 east of Santa Maria with flames blowing through canyons and visible from the Santa Maria Valley farm fields. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“It seems to be a steady flow of small animals coming in today,” Silva said.

The Santa Maria Valley Humane Society helped by taking in several shelter dogs to free up space for the evacuated animals, she said.

A disaster trailer also is set up to provide crates for those needing to evacuate, she added.

Those with large and small animals were urged not to wait until the last minute.

“Early evacuation for your large animals is key,” Silva said. “Don’t wait. As soon as you get an evacuation warning or if you’re concerned you’re going to get an evacuation warning, either bring them to the Elks/Unocal Event Center or call us so we can arrange transport.”

Volunteers from the San Luis Obispo County Horse Emergency Evacuation Team were ready to assist those evacuating large animals from the fire zone.

Additionally, evacuated animals previously registered for the Santa Barbara County Fair Junior Livestock Auction next week were allowed to take them to the fairgrounds in Santa Maria on Friday, two days earlier than the planned arrival.

The blaze started in San Luis Obispo County near Twitchell Reservoir on Thursday and the cause remains under investigation. Officials have not estimated when the blaze might be contained.

There are no reports of any damaged structures, but flames reportedly torched part of vineyard and came uncomfortably close to others. 

Flames of the Alamo Fire burn east as seen from Blazing Saddle Drive on Saturday. Click to view larger
Flames of the Alamo Fire burn east as seen from Blazing Saddle Drive on Saturday. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

Cambria Winery off Santa Maria Mesa Road closed Saturday.

"Our tasting room is closed today due to mandatory evacuations from the Alamo Fire. Thank you to all the fire fighters working hard to protect us and our neighors," Cambria Winery's Facebook post said.

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and the County Air Pollution Control District upgraded an air quality watch to a warning due to the smoke from both the Alamo and Whittier wildfires burning in the county. 

Ash from the fire fell throughout North County, coating vehicles and anything else sitting outside. 

Highway 166 has been closed since the fire broke out Thursday afternoon along the roadway, east of Highway 101.

As of Saturday, Highway 166 was closed between Highway 101 to Perkins Road in Cuyama. 

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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.

(HPWREN images and video)

(HPWREN images and video)

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