Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 3:43 am | Mostly Cloudy 55º


Local News

Burton Mesa Fire Near Lompoc Held to 320 Acres

Full containment expected Tuesday; Investigators looking for 1-2 people seen near fire's origin

A bomber drops a load of fire retardant on the vegetation fire burning Monday in the Burton Mesa area near Lompoc. By the evening hours, the fast-moving blaze had calmed considerably, and was 55% contained, with full containment expected Tuesday.
A bomber drops a load of fire retardant on the vegetation fire burning Monday in the Burton Mesa area near Lompoc. By the evening hours, the fast-moving blaze had calmed considerably, and was 55% contained, with full containment expected Tuesday. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

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Crews remained on the fire lines throughout the night Monday, continuing their efforts to quell a fast-moving vegetation fire that had charred some 320 acres in the Burton Mesa area near Lompoc.

As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, no structures had been damaged, and the blaze was 75-percent contained, said Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

The fire had "laid down" by nightfall, and full containment was expected Tuesday, Zaniboni said.

One firefighters was hospitalized after sustaining a leg injury overnight, Zaniboni said.

Cause of the blaze remained under investigation, but Zaniboni said investigators "are looking for anyone with information about one to two individuals, most likely juveniles, who were on a hiking trail behind the water treatment plant at the time of the fire."

Anyone with information is asked to call the Fire Department tip line at 805.686.5074.

The fire, which was reported shortly before 1:30 p.m. near La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, was fueled by heavy brush and oak forests, Zaniboni said.

He added that firefighters were fortunate they did not have to contend with gusty conditions, and the weather Tuesday also was expected to be favorable.

The fire primarily burned east toward Cebada Canyon, which was the only area to remain under mandatory evacuation orders late Monday night.

"It was flaring up pretty good in that area, but tankers made about five drops and really put a damper on it," Zaniboni said.

Evacuations also had been ordered in other areas to the east, including Tularosa Road and Gypsy Canyon.

Thick smoke billows up Monday afternoon from a 320-acre vegetation fire burning in the Burton Mesa area near Lompoc. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

As of Tuesday morning, all mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted, but only residents were being allowed in Cebada Canyon.

On Monday afternoon, bulldozers were used to carve out containment lines on one side of the blaze while air tankers laid down retardant lines on the other side, Zaniboni said.

The fire began south of Burton Mesa Boulevard near Via Lato, Zaniboni said.

At the peak, four fixed-winged aircraft and three helicopters were assigned to the fire, Zaniboni said. On Tuesday, that number had been reduced to two helicopters, plus two tanker that were on stand-by at the Santa Maria Airport.

More than 600 fire personnel were assigned to the fire as of Tuesday morning, but many of them were expected to be released.

Sites were established for people and animals that needed evacuation as follows:

» An evacuation center was being established for residents displaced at the Trinity Church of the Nazarene. It will be open around 4:15 p.m. Monday The address is 500 East North Ave. in Lompoc.

» For small animal assistance, owners being evacuated are being advised to take them to the Lompoc Animal Shelter at 1501 W. Central Ave.

» For large animal assistance, owners are being advised to call the Animal Services Hotline at 805.681.4332.

Residents in upper Mission Hills gathered near the stairs leading to the lower section of the community to watch the aerial attack in another canyon.

“When it first started, it looked bad,” said Beverly Long, who has lived in neighborhood since 1977.

They could see flames amid the smoke until firefighting aircraft laid down a line of orange fire retardant that provided some comfort to the Mission Hills residents.

Neighbor Grace Olson said they loaded their cars after learning an evacuation warning had been issued, but felt confident they wouldn’t have to flee.

“I was really happy our neighborhood checked on each other,” Olson added. 

Frank Saunders, who works in Solvang, lives in the lower neighborhood, and received multiple phone calls alerting him to the danger.

Since their house sets in the middle of the neighborhood, and not against chaparrel-covered hills, he figured they were pretty safe.

By the time he returned to Lompoc area, he said firefighters had placed the orange line of retardant.

“I was pretty secure that nothing was going to happen,” Saunders added.

Still, his wife gathered up their computer — it houses their important paperwork and photos — and other important items in case they received orders to evacuate. 

In addition to the shelter set up at the church, several hotels offered discounted rooms for evacuees.

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.

Flames from a fast-moving vegetation fire burning in the Burton Mesa area near Lompoc move along a ridge line. Most evacuation orders had been lifted by Monday night. (Scott Wheeler / KCOY News photo)

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