Tuesday, September 25 , 2018, 12:26 pm | Overcast with Haze 63º


Local News


Crews Gain Upper Hand with Fire Burning Along Highway 101 Near Nojoqui Summit

Firefighters have blaze south of Buellton nearly contained, as Cal Fire crews tackle larger brushfire on Cuesta Grade north of San Luis Obispo

Smoke billows over Highway 101 near the Nojoqui Summit on Sunday afternoon after a vegetation fire broke out. Initial reports were that 15 acres had been charred.
Smoke billows over Highway 101 near the Nojoqui Summit on Sunday afternoon after a vegetation fire broke out. Initial reports were that 15 acres had been charred. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

[Scroll down to see video of the fire]

A two-alarm vegetation fire that burned around six acres near the Nojoqui Summit south of Buellton was 80 percent contained by late Sunday.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department responded at about 4:40 p.m. to the fire along Highway 101, Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.

The first crews to arrived reported two to three acres burning in light to moderate brush, with a moderate rate of spread, according to Zaniboni.

“It looks like they’re making good progress,”​ he told Noozhawk. “This will be done tonight.”

As of 7 p.m. and with 80 percent containment achieved, he said some firefighters would remain on scene to patrol and continue mop-up operations.

Early estimates said the fire swelled to at least 15 acres, but that was revised to between five and six.

Light wind blowing in the area reportedly was picking up, causing concern early for fire crews.

Two air tankers initially ordered to help fight the fire were later canceled, Zaniboni said at 6 p.m.

Flames move through grass and light brush Sunday near the Nojoqui Summit. Click to view larger
Flames move through grass and light brush Sunday near the Nojoqui Summit. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

The first alarm included four engines, bulldozers, a helicopter and a battalion chief before a second alarm was called.

Highway 101 initially remained open but traffic reportedly was moving slowly in the area, Zaniboni said.

At 5:30 p.m., the fire reportedly was burning on both sides of the freeway and closure of Highway 101 between Highways 1 and 246 was planned due to the heavy smoke, according to emergency dispatch reports from the California Highway Patrol.

By 6 p.m., some southbound lanes reportedly were open again and others soon reopened.

Zaniboni said the fire never jumped the freeway. Instead, a plastic pipe in the culvert under the freeway burned, sending up the thick dark smoke that made it appear the flames had crossed the highway.

Firefighters used foam and water at both ends of the pipe to extinguish the burning plastic, he added.

A plastic pipe culvert that runs under Highway 101 caught fire, sending smoke across the highway. Click to view larger
A plastic pipe culvert that runs under Highway 101 caught fire, sending smoke across the highway. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

No structures were damaged by the fire and no one was injured, Zaniboni said.

More than an hour later, Cal Fire/San Luis Obispo County Fire Department crews in San Luis Obispo County responded to several spot fires on the Cuesta Grade north of San Luis Obispo.

By 8 p.m., two of the fires had merged and officials estimated some 40 acres had been charred with one structure threatened, according to the Cal Fire SLO Twitter feed.

That blaze also interfered with end-of-the-weekend traffic on Highway 101 as firefighters attacked the flames from the air and on the ground in an effort to keep fire west of Mount Lowe Road.

Cal Fire investigators were looking into reports the Cuesta Grade fires were started by a vehicle towing a pop-up tent and dragging a chain, creating sparks that ignited the extremely dry brush along the roadside.

The same vehicle reportedly may have started the Santa Barbara County blaze plus another blaze on Highway 41 at the Cottonwood Pass on Sunday evening, according to emergency dispatch reports. That fire was quickly extinguished, according to CHP emergency dispatch reports.

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

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.

(Noozhawk video)

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