Thursday, July 27 , 2017, 4:37 pm | Fair 73º

 
 
 
 

Local News

As Weather Improves, Firefighters Making Big Push to Contain Whittier Fire

Evacuation orders and warnings change as north flanks of the fire remain priority; containment at 49% with 18,311 acres burned

Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Jon Ford watches flames during a backfire operation near the Bee Rock Quarry off Highway 154 in the Santa Ynez Valley. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Jon Ford watches flames during a backfire operation near the Bee Rock Quarry off Highway 154 in the Santa Ynez Valley. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)
A map shows the Whittier Fire footprint as of Sunday night. The black line indicates areas of containment, while the red one shows the active fire line. Click to view larger
A map shows the Whittier Fire footprint as of Sunday night. The black line indicates areas of containment, while the red one shows the active fire line.

With favorable weather conditions in the forecast for the next several days, crews battling the Whittier Fire are planning an aggressive attack to complete containment lines and corral the 18,311-acre blaze.

The wildfire has been burning since July 8 in the mountains between Lake Cachuma and the South Coast.

Cloud cover and light winds for much of the day Sunday allowed firefighters to push the containment figure to 49 percent from 36 percent in the morning.

The focus of firefighting efforts overnight was the active fire on the northwest and northeast flanks.

“We have an opportunity to button up the north side of the Santa Ynez Range, and that’s what we’re going to go to right now,” incident commander Mark von Tillow told Noozhawk on Sunday night.

“We still have resources on the south side. We haven’t taken anything away from that. But right now, the main effort is where we have that open flank and active fire.”

A burnout operation on the northwest flank, in the area of Bee Rock Quarry, 1700 Highway 154 in Santa Ynez, allowed crews to contain a significant section of line in that area Sunday.

The south flank of the fire, above populated areas west of Goleta, remained in a backing mode, and was very quiet.

Officials were not expecting that to change in the next few days, and were making containment there a secondary priority, in part due to the rugged terrain that makes access very difficult.

Santa Barbara County firefighters pull a hose to douse hotspots in support of a U.S. Forest Service Hot Shot crew near the Bee Rock Quarry in Santa Ynez. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County firefighters pull a hose to douse hotspots in support of a U.S. Forest Service Hot Shot crew near the Bee Rock Quarry in Santa Ynez. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

“On the front country, most of the fire’s edge is below the marine layer, so we’re not expecting any significant movement along there,” said Dennis Burns, a fire behavior specialist.

Von Tillow noted that once crews get the north side of the fire contained, the next step would be aggressively attacking the southern front.

“We’re probably going to have to look hard at going up and getting that thing, and putting more effort than we can right now,” he said.

In the meantime, “I feel very comfortable on the south side of the Santa Ynez range,” he added.

Structure defense crews are in place at the Cold Springs Tavern, which is east of the Bear Creek drainage on the east end of the fire.

Another sign of progress on the fire was the reopening of Highway 154, which had been shut down since shortly after the blaze broke out. Traffic began flowing again at 5 p.m. Sunday.

A Santa Barbara County firefighter carrying two hose packs climbs rugged terrain to extend the length of hose to douse hot spots on the Whittier Fire. Click to view larger
A Santa Barbara County firefighter carrying two hose packs climbs rugged terrain to extend the length of hose to douse hot spots on the Whittier Fire. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

Jim Dudley, the meteorologist assigned to the fire, said the forecast through the week should benefit firefighters.

“Overall, not much wind, temperatures down a little bit, a little bit more moist,” he said. “And that should be the big difference.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County due to the Whittier and Alamo fires.

Santa Barbara County also proclaimed a local emergency as a result of the two fires.

A U.S. Forest Service firefighter keeps a close eye on flames near the Bee Rock Quarry during a backfire operation Sunday. Click to view larger
A U.S. Forest Service firefighter keeps a close eye on flames near the Bee Rock Quarry during a backfire operation Sunday. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

An updated total has determined that 16 residences and 30 outbuildings have been destroyed by the Whittier Fire, and one residence and six outbuildings have been damaged.

An estimated 3,500 people have been evacuated, mainly along the Highway 154 corridor, Paradise Road and in the West Camino Cielo area, and in the canyons west of Goleta.

Evacuation warnings and orders were changed Monday morning, with the Paradise Road warning lifted and the evacuation orders lifted for part of West Camino Cielo, which is open from Highway 154 to the Winchester Gun Club, including Kinevan Road; Rosario Park, all of Stagecoach Road and Cold Springs Road were opened, the U.S. Forest Service announced. 

A Santa Barbara County firefighter navigates steep terrain to douse hot spots in support of a U.S. Forest Service Hot Shot crew near Bee Rock Quarry off Highway 154. Click to view larger
A Santa Barbara County firefighter navigates steep terrain to douse hot spots in support of a U.S. Forest Service Hot Shot crew near Bee Rock Quarry off Highway 154. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

The evacuation warning for Cachuma Village stayed in effect. 

Mandatory evacuation orders also remained in effect for West Camino Cielo from the Winchester Gun Club to Refugio Road; and the area from Winchester Canyon Road west to El Capitán Ranch Road, excluding the communities of Wagon Wheel, Langlo Ranch Road and Winchester Commons.

The American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast Chapter has been operating an evacuation center at San Marcos High School, at 4750 Hollister Ave. in Santa Barbara.

Nearly 2,300 firefighters have been assigned to the Whittier Fire, including personnel who had been released from the Alamo Fire that is nearing full containment east of Santa Maria.

The Alamo Fire, which started two days before the Whittier Fire, has burned nearly 29,000 acres and was 96 percent contained as of Sunday.

A U.S. Forest Service Hot Shot crew battles smoke and dust while clearing brush for a fire break near Bee Rock Quarry. Click to view larger
A U.S. Forest Service Hot Shot crew battles smoke and dust while clearing brush for a fire break near Bee Rock Quarry. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

Also assigned to the Whittier Fire were 144 fire engines, 53 hand crews, 18 bulldozers, 16 helicopters and 35 water tenders, four fixed-wing tankers and four masticators.

Many local roads within the evacuation areas remained closed, including West Camino Cielo at Highway 154, Kinevan Road at Highway 154, Farren Road at Vereda del Padre, and Old San Marcos Road at Via Parva.

West Camino Cielo remains closed from Refugio Road east to the fire.

» Click here for a map of current road closures from the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department.

» Click here for up-to-date highway closure information from Caltrans District 5.

» Click here to sign up for free Noozhawk breaking news text alerts to your phone.

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.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.



Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >