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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 4:44 am | Overcast 49º

 
 
 
 

Canyon Fire Grows Above 10,000 Acres With 18-Percent Containment

Air quality warning issued as blaze continues to burn Vandenberg Air Force Base

The Canyon Fire is seen burning on the Vandenberg Air Force Base behind the Space Launch Complex 3 housing the Atlas V rocket and WorldView 4 satellite.
The Canyon Fire is seen burning on the Vandenberg Air Force Base behind the Space Launch Complex 3 housing the Atlas V rocket and WorldView 4 satellite. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

The Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base has topped 10,000 acres but crews have made progress in fighting the blaze that threatened space launch complexes and support equipment, with containment reported at 18 percent, officials said Tuesday morning.

The 10,542-acre fire burning on South Base had a force of 633 firefighters battling the blaze that started late Saturday afternoon at the base.

As was obvious to local residents who were watching gigantic smoke plumes rise from the remote location Monday and standing ready to evacuate livestock, Vandenberg officials said the fire “was very active” Monday, growing by 6,000 acres.

As of 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Canyon Fire has burned 10,542 acres of mostly Air Force property.

To minimize traffic congestion and to facilitate fire response, roadblocks remain on Ocean Avenue/Highway 246 at Union Sugar Avenue.

Evacuations warnings have been place for Miguelito and La Salle canyons near Vandenberg.

Some 633 firefighters from Vandenberg AFB, U.S. Forestry, Cal Fire, Santa Barbara County Fire and local communities are battling the blaze. 

“Most of the growth was to the west and the north. However, fire teams made strong progress along the south and east portions of the fire,” VAFB officials said in a statement.

“Despite the progress made yesterday, the fire remains significant and unpredictable. For safety reasons and to prevent any interference with the fire response, South Base access continues to be limited to mission essential personnel,” VAFB representatives said.

Crews are dealing with active fire behavior that includes uphill runs, wind-driven runs and short-range spotting.

According to one federal source, full containment is not expected until Sept. 30. 

That section of the base houses several space launch complexes used for blastoffs of rocket that carrying critical national security and science satellites, making the Canyon Fire a top priority in the state, County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said Monday.

“This is a high priority fire right now just because of the assets that are on this base,” he said Monday.

Hot weather also hampered firefighting efforts, with the normal marine layer not present.

Trucks pulling horse trailers sit near Hillride Ranch Monday, ready to help evacuate livestock due to the Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
Trucks pulling horse trailers sit near Hillride Ranch Monday, ready to help evacuate livestock due to the Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“It’s been interesting weather the last couple of days,” Zaniboni said.

Tuesday’s firefighting efforts will continue to focus on building direct and indirect containment lines.

“Fire managers are utilizing crews with hand tools and bulldozers to construct containment lines on the base property.”

While Vandenberg officials say there are no details on damaged buildings, there were reports of at least some superficial damage to a building on Tranquillion Peak.

Firefighting costs reportedly have reached $1.5 million so far.

Smoke from the Canyon Fire has traveled into San Luis Obispo County with ash on cars in Atascadero.

The previously air quality watch in Santa Barbara County has been upgraded to an air quality warning, urging residents to use extra caution to protect their health, according to the county Public Health Department and Air Pollution Control District.

Flames from the Canyon Fire burning Vandenberg Air Force Base are visible Monday on a ridge behind Hillside Ranch. Click to view larger
Flames from the Canyon Fire burning Vandenberg Air Force Base are visible Monday on a ridge behind Hillside Ranch.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“Smoke from the Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base is currently causing air quality to be unhealthy for sensitive groups in Lompoc,” authorities said. “Everyone in that area should limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors, and people with heart or lung disease, children, and older adults should limit time outdoors and be especially careful. 

“Other areas of Santa Barbara County are currently experiencing somewhat elevated levels of particles. Because winds and weather conditions can change, air quality in a range of areas of the county may be affected by the fire. Communities may also experience falling ash. “

If high concentrations of smoke and ash are present, people should common sense to protect their health by limiting time spent outdoors and avoiding outdoor exercise. If falling ash is spotted, avoid activities, such as using leaf blowers, that will stir particles into the air.

Anyone with symptoms that may be related to exposure to smoke and soot should contact a health care provider.

Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, and nausea or unusual fatigue or lightheadedness. 

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.

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