Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 8:08 am | Fair 65º


Local News

Crews Battling Whittier Fire Brace for Weekend Sundowner Winds

Flames are visible Thursday night in the mountains west of Goleta; blaze is at 12,263 acres and 52 percent containment

Flames from the Whittier Fire burn intensely Thursday night below Santa Ynez Peak in the mountains above Gato and Las Varas canyons west of Goleta. Click to view larger
Flames from the Whittier Fire burn intensely Thursday night below Santa Ynez Peak in the mountains above Gato and Las Varas canyons west of Goleta. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)
Map of the Whittier Fire as of Friday morning. Click to view larger
Map of the Whittier Fire as of Friday morning. (U.S. Forest Service)

Firefighters were bracing Thursday night for expected sundowner winds this weekend, which could potentially push flames from the Whittier Fire down into the foothill neighborhoods in and around western Goleta.

Forecasters were calling for “light to moderate” sundowner conditions Friday and Saturday evenings, with downslope north to northwest winds of 10-20 mph and gusts to 30 mph.

“Overall, the weather is always a wildcard, whether it comes or doesn’t,” Incident Commander Mark von Tillow told Noozhawk Thursday night. “But we’re prepared for it, and I feel pretty comfortable right now with the plan we’ve got. Actually very comfortable. We’ll just have to wait and see if the weather develops.”

As it was the previous evening, the fire was active again Thursday night below the ridge line on the south side of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Flames were easily visible in the upper reaches of Gato Canyon and Las Varas Canyon, below Santa Ynez Peak west of Goleta.

Officials said the 9-1-1 lines were being inundated with calls about the flare-up, and issued the following statement late Thursday night:

"This flare up currently is not a direct threat to homes or communities. It is approximately 2 miles from communities. It is slowly backing down the mountainside.

"Firefighters are actively monitoring this area with Night Flight Aircraft. Crews are continuing to work on fire control lines on all areas of the fire tonight, including reinforcing dozer and hand lines along the front country area.

"Flames will be visible until late this evening when the marine layer returns.

A DC-10 air tanker lays down a line of fire retardant in the mountains west of Goleta. Click to view larger
A DC-10 air tanker lays down a line of fire retardant in the mountains west of Goleta. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

"Rumors that powerlines are being currently being impacted are not accurate."

Those flare-ups were expected, von Tillow said.

“That was in an area we call the thermal belt. and that’s where the warm air gets trapped from the onshore flow of cold air that comes up to a certain point,” von Tillow explained. “And then the cold air that sinks at night traps that warm layer there in the middle.

“So that’s where the fire remained active, with the high temperatures and low humidity.”

The fire grew more than 900 acres overnight to 13,199 acres. Containment remained at 52 percent.

Bulldozer lines have been carved along the ridge to contain the Whittier Fire. Click to view larger
Bulldozer lines have been carved along the ridge to contain the Whittier Fire. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

Some 20 structures have been lost, and an estimated 3,500 people have been evacuated, mainly along the Highway 154 corridor, Paradise Road and in the West Camino Cielo area.

Air tankers and helicopters spent the day laying down lines of retardant below the southern flank of the fire,

“We’ve had folks out there all week, scouting around,” von Tillow said. “We’ve been building some bulldozer line down in the bottom, connecting the ranch roads, and working with all those ranchers out there. We feel good about it.

“I was out there today … We’ve been laying retardant in there all afternoon to slow anything that’s going to come down if the winds develop. So we’re preparing, and that’s all we can do at this point is prepare.”

The northeast flank of the fire also remained active Thursday, although it remained within the upper reaches of Bear Creek Canyon.

Firefighters monitors the flames below Santa Ynez Peak. Click to view larger
Firefighters monitors the flames below Santa Ynez Peak. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

“Crews have been working extremely hard in there the last couple days,” von Tillow said. “We’ve had more hotshot crews in there. They’re getting more comfortable with it. We’re going direct.

“We supported them with aircraft again today, and there was a lot less smoke in the air today than the last few days.”

Bulldozers and hand crews labored to build and strengthen containment lines throughout the fire.

Evacuation orders remained in effect for Highway 154 from Armour Ranch to Paradise Road, and West Camino Cielo from Highway 154 to the Winchester Gun Club.

Kinevan Road was added to the mandatory evacuation list late Thursday night.

An evacuation warning remained in place for the area from Las Varas Canyon east to Winchester Canyon, and from Highway 101 north to West Camino Cielo; and Paradise Road from Highway 154 to the first river crossing.

The American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast Chapter has been operating evacuation centers at San Marcos High School, at 4750 Hollister Ave. near Goleta, and at the Minami Community Center, 600 W. Enos Drive in Santa Maria for people displaced by the Whittier Fire and the Alamo Fire burning in northern Santa Barbara County. The Santa Maria shelter has since closed.

Some 1,240 firefighters have been assigned to the Whittier Fire, including personnel who had been released from the Alamo Fire east of Santa Maria.

Also assigned were 92 fire engines, 23 hand crews, 16 bulldozers, 12 helicopters, and 23 water tenders. Fixed-wing tankers are available from local air bases as needed. 

Highway 154 remained closed between Highway 246 and Foothill Road in Santa Barbara because of the fire, and many local roads within the evacuation areas are also 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. 

Caltrans District 5 has up-to-date highway closure information here.

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.

A helicopter makes a water drop on the Whittier Fire. Click to view larger
A helicopter makes a water drop on the Whittier Fire. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

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