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Saturday, March 23 , 2019, 4:53 am | Fair 48º


Front Fire Burns More Than 1,000 Acres East of Santa Maria Valley

CHP closes Highway 166 between Highway 101 and Highway 33 as the wildfire burns in Los Padres National Forest land

Fire perimter map Click to view larger
The perimeter map fo the Front Fire burning along Highway 166 as of 6 a.m. Monday. (U.S. Forest Service map)

The Front Fire burning east of the Santa Maria Valley had blackened more than 1,000 acres of brush as of Monday morning, according to authorities.

A vegetation fire was initially reported around 1:30 p.m. near Highway 166 at Rock Front Ranch, and crews from Los Padres National Forest, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and Cal Fire responded to the blaze.

It grew quickly, Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen said, and Los Padres activated a full firefighting response, including air tankers. 

Containment was listed at 10 percent Monday morning and full containment may take a week, according to early estimates.

The blaze was burning in foot-tall grass, brush and chaparral in rough terrain, with flames making uphill runs while firefighters dealt with temperatures in the 90s. 

"There's a probability of the fire increasing in acreage due to the weather forecast and current conditions," Madsen said. 

Residents were advised of the incident, but no mandatory evacuations were ordered, he added.

On Monday morning, officials closed the Sierra Madre Road area as a precaution and requested campers and hunters pack and leave in case the fire crosses Highway 166.

Sounds of air tankers and other firefighting air support could be heard over Santa Maria on Sunday afternoon. 

plane Click to view larger
Cal Fire plane heads for the runway at the Santa Maria Public Airport where a tanker base helps support aircraft involve in battling the Front Fire on Sunday off Highway 166. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The California Highway Patrol shut down Highway 166 Sunday afternoon due to the fire, and the roadway was still closed between Highway 101 and Highway 33 as of Monday morning. The roadway likely will remain closed all day.

Highway 166 links the Central Coast to the southern San Joaquin Valley and sees heavy traffic at the start and end of weekends. An alternative route is Highway 46 in Paso Robles.

Due to the location of the fire, Los Padres National Forest personnel were managing the incident.

Some 700 firefighters were involved in the battle on Monday, according to the Forest Service.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation.

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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