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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 2:58 pm | Fair 65º


Coal Oil Point Reserve Research, Restoration Areas Burned in Tank Fire

UCSB scientists will study how the environment recovers from blaze, which charred some 20 acres

A firefighter looks for hotspots on Friday after a fire charred some 20 acres in an around the Coal Oil Point Reserve west of Isla Vista. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County firefighters continuing dousing hot spots Friday afternoon from a 20-acre of vegetation fire that broke out late Thursday night at Coal Oil Point west of Isla Vista.

No buildings or structures were damaged, and fire crews had the fire completely contained by 6 p.m. Friday night.

Coal Oil Point Reserve director Cristina Sandoval walked the property Friday morning to survey the area.

Most of what burned in what was dubbed the Tank Fire is within the 158-acre reserve, which is home to many endangered and threatened plant and wildlife species, including the western snowy plover.

“Overall I think this is a good thing, because we feel there are great research opportunities,” Sandoval said.

The area was “overdue” for a fire, she added.

In her 18 years as director of the reserve, she’s never seen a fire bigger than a half-acre, so she hopes UCSB researchers can study how the coastal scrub environment recovers from blaze. There will probably be a lot of new growth once it rains, she noted.

Sandoval lives on the reserve and there is a lab facility on site, but the fire crews were able to keep the flames away from structures and stopped them from jumping to the east side of the Devereux Slough.

It’s unusual to have such hot, dry weather in June, when it’s usually foggy with “June gloom,” she added.

Sandoval surveyed the area and took pictures to send to people working on the 20 research projects in the area. They’ll have to strategize how to deal with the fire if their areas were burned, she said.

About half of a restoration area funded by a California State Coastal Conservancy grant was burned, and the planted area of the endangered Ventura marsh milkvetch plant was also burned. This particular plant is so rare it was considered extinct until the 1990s, Sandoval said.

“I can see now their area was burned, but they may have survived, and we have many more seeds in the freezer so we can plant again,” she said.

Wildlife such as bobcats was probably able to find refuge in the patches of non-burned areas, she said.

The snowy plover breeding area on the beach was untouched by the fire since there’s no fuel there. Fire crews found a back way to access the brush fire and didn’t trample any of the nesting areas. 

The Tank Fire spread to 10 acres fairly quickly Thursday night, pushed by 25 mph winds, fire Capt. David Sadecki said.

Crews had 70-percent containment by 7 a.m. Friday and were able to completely contain it by the evening. After the fire was contained, one engine patrolled the scene until Saturday morning to check for any hot spots, Sadecki said. 

The cause was still under investigation and there were reports of a transformer exploding, downed power lines and possibly fireworks in the area.

County arson investigators were on the scene, UCSB Police Sgt. Rob Romero said.

His department interviewed a person who was found in the area when the fire started, but no one was taken into custody.

“As of right now there’s nothing suspicious,” Romero said. “We did have a person in the area and contacted them and got a story out of them in case we need to talk to him later.”

UCSB police officers were on standby for evacuations, but only had to evacuate one home Thursday night, as firefighters kept the flames away from structures.

There are Venoco Inc. oil tanks in the area, a weather station operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and a small lab for the Coal Oil Point Reserve.

Across the Devereux Slough is the Devereux Foundation campus, UCSB faculty housing and the community of Isla Vista. 

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli 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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