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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 7:28 am | Fair 51º


Crews Contain Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base

Normal operations to resume Monday for North Base and South Base amid focus on cleanup and recovery

Spectators gather in Vandenberg Villege to watch the aerial firefight on Friday afternoon. Click to view larger
Spectators gather in Vandenberg Villege to watch the aerial firefight on Friday afternoon.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The 12,500-acre Canyon Fire burning on south Vandenberg Air Force Base is fully contained, as cleanup and recovery efforts get underway so operations can return to normal, authorities said Friday night.

In the meantime, crews also dealt with a North Base fire Thursday and yet another, smaller fire that started Friday afternoon north of the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex.

The burn areas have remained on base property, though outside resources from all over the region are helping with aircraft, hand crews, engines, bulldozers and water tenders.

Thursday's blaze, the Washington Fire, burned in the heart of base, or main cantonment area, where most people work and otherwise access support facilities. 

Workers restored electricity to the more than 150 facilities that lost power due to Thursday's fast-moving fire that sent a huge cloud of smoke into Lompoc, Vandenberg officials said.

"At this time, the fire is controlled and fire teams are accomplishing mop-up actions," officials said Friday night. "Civil engineers have returned natural gas supplies to housing and dormitories that had supplies turned off on (Thursday) in effort to minimize the fire danger."

Some buildings were evacuated Thursday after the Washington Fire started in the area of 13th Street and Washington Avenue, Vandenberg officials said, but base housing wasn’t threatened by the blaze.

Officials said fire crews established fire breaks and structure defenses for several buildings on the base, and that significant amounts of fire retardant were dropped on North Base areas.

"Vandenberg airmen will be sweeping, and in some areas scrubbing, air-delivered fire retardant from buildings, pathways and sidewalks," Vandenberg officials said. "Although the retardant is safe, it may cause minor skin irritation if contacted."

A plane drops fire retardant on a fire burning Friday afternoon at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
A plane drops fire retardant on a fire burning Friday afternoon at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A large firefighting force nearby allowed crews to quickly handle a fire that sparked Friday near the federal prison complex. That fire consumed 30 acres with four helicopters seen above the site at one point, minutes after a tanker delivered its load of fire retardant.

At its peak, the Canyon Fire battle included more than 1,050 firefighters from 50 agencies located in California and across the country.

The firefighting force suffered a tragedy when a Ventura County fire engineer, 38-year-old Ryan Osler, died in a water tender rollover accident Wednesday on the way to the Canyon Fire.

The Canyon Fire, which started Sept. 17, was 100-percent contained as of Friday and the North Base Washington Fire was said to be controlled, but no containment numbers were released.

Typically, firefighters release containment details and then work on controlling, or extinguishing a blaze. 

Beyond an initial statement putting the size at 30 acres, no update was provided about Friday's new fire, although it appeared smoke was fading after aerial crews hammered it with water and retardant.

Normal work schedules will resume Monday on base after only mission-essential personnel were ordered to show up Friday, civilians were authorized to take administrative leave and others were told to be on 6-ring standby. 

South Vandenberg also will reopen to normal business Monday. However, Honda Ridge Road on South Base will remain closed until further notice and outdoor recreational activities still are restricted, base officials said.

"Long-term recovery efforts are in the planning stages and Vandenberg officials are confident that the installation will soon be postured to resume launch operations," VAFB representatives said.

An Atlas V rocket and its WorldView-4 satellite launch, once planned for Monday, won't occur until early October, United Launch Alliance officials said.

An air quality warning will be in effect for Santa Barbara County over the weekend, with smoke and ash from wildfires and elevated particle levels because of the high winds, according to the Public Health Department and Air Pollution Control District.

On Thursday, “every district monitoring station recorded levels of coarse particles (particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter, or PM10) over the state standard, and short-term levels of fine particles (PM2.5) considered ‘unhealthy’ were recorded at the Lompoc monitoring station,” officials said Friday.

Daily air quality monitoring can be checked here and the county suggests limiting time spent outdoors, including outdoor exercise.

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

Crews respond to the Washington Fire that started Thursday afternoon on the north Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
Crews respond to the Washington Fire that started Thursday afternoon on the north Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Staff Sgt. Shane Phipps / Vandenberg Air Force Base photo)

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