Friday, May 25 , 2018, 6:11 pm | A Few Clouds and Breezy 65º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Sherpa Fire Explodes to 4,000 Acres Overnight, Pushed by Sundowner Winds

Highway 101 and Union Pacific Railroad travel reopened; firefighters able to protect homes and El Capitan State Park from flames

Fire crews work to protect structures at El Capitan State Park on the Gaviota Coast Thursday night.
Fire crews work to protect structures at El Capitan State Park on the Gaviota Coast Thursday night.  (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery of the Sherpa Fire.]

[Click here for the latest story on the fire.]

The Sherpa Fire jumped to 4,000 acres overnight but firefighting crews were able to protect homes in El Capitan Canyon and structures at El Capitan State Beach, officials said Friday.

Highway 101 was reopened at 4 a.m. after another overnight closure due to the fire jumping the freeway to start spot fires in the center median and burn south of the roadway.

The Union Pacific Railroad tracks were also reopened to travel at 11 p.m. Thursday.

The rapid spread of fire overnight was a repeat of Wednesday night and is expected to continue every night as long as sundowner winds continue, officials said. 

Hot Shot firefighters await assignments for the Sherpa Fire Friday morning. Click to view larger
Hot Shot firefighters await assignments for the Sherpa Fire Friday morning.  (Urban Hikers photo)

"The fire has exhibited extremely fast downhill runs during evening and overnight hours due to down-slope sundowner winds," said Unified Command, which includes CalFire, the U.S. Forest Service and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. During the day, winds push the fire up-slope and take smoke to higher elevations, officials said. 

On Friday, crews will build and reinforce containment lines on the north (mountain) side of the fire and east (Goleta) side of the fire, and along Highway 101, officials said. ​Helicopters and air tankers started an air attack again Friday morning after stopping for the night. 

Unified Command reported 5-percent containment of the perimeter as of 7 a.m. Friday and expected full containment next Wednesday. 

Nine people stayed in the Red Cross evacuation center at the SBCC Wake Center Thursday night, at 300 N. Turnpike Rd., and it will stay open as long as mandatory evacuations are in effect. 

For the second straight night, Highway 101 was shut down along the Gaviota Coast Thursday night after flames from the wind-driven Sherpa Fire "bumped" the roadway as they headed southeast, according to the U.S. Forest Service. 

The fire had expanded to 1,400 acres with 0-percent containment by Thursday night, and helicopters and air tankers stopped flying as darkness fell, said Forest Service spokesman Manny Madrigal.

Upwards of 1,230 people were working on the blaze. 

Officials remained concerned the flames will spread toward homes in Refugio Canyon and El Capitan Canyon, and southeast toward the city of Goleta. 

The Sherpa Fire more than doubles in size overnight Thursday to 4,000 acres as sundowner winds push it south. Click to view larger
The Sherpa Fire more than doubles in size overnight Thursday to 4,000 acres as sundowner winds push it south.  (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

Train travel also was stopped Thursday night as flames approached the coastal tracks.

Travel was stopped through the South Coast north of Goleta due to the fire, according to the Public Health Department. 

Massive resources were deployed Thursday for an all-out attack on the Sherpa Fire, as firefighters tried to keep the blaze from advancing into more-populated areas.

On Thursday, 30 aircraft, including air tankers and water-dropping helicopters, were working the fire, and the were expected to return to action after dawn on Friday, according to Unified Command.

There was no update of burned acreage since the low smoke stopped aircraft from making reconnaissance flights for acreage estimates, according to the Joint Information Center for the fire response.

Fighting the fire has been made harder by winds and rugged terrain, and crews were “finding it difficult to find and hold the fire line,” officials said Thursday evening. 

The blaze expanded rapidly late Wednesday night, and officials worried that events could repeat themselves with another windy, warm night predicted. 

A skycrane helicopter makes a drop on the Highway 101 center divider at El Capitan State Park. Click to view larger
A skycrane helicopter makes a drop on the Highway 101 center divider at El Capitan State Park. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

Firefighters were concerned about winds shifting and the fire threatening the 60 homes in Refugio Canyon, as well as down-slope sundowner winds threatening the 80 homes in El Capitan Ranch and the Circle Bar B Ranch area.

“Crews  have been working to reinforce this line since midday (Thursday) to prevent the fire from spreading to the east,” officials said.

No structures had been damaged as of Thursday evening.

Communication towers and lines had recent brush clearing, and crews were working to protect those areas, according to the Joint Information Center.

There have been no calls for donations or supplies, and people are asked not to go to incident command at Dos Pueblos High School to deliver supplies. 

CalFire Unit Chief Scott Jalbert, from San Luis Obispo County, said the wind patterns change with sundowners, causing the fire patterns to go south instead of east-west. 

An air-quality warning was issued Thursday as smoke from the fire stretched throughout the South Coast, almost obscuring the view of the Santa Ynez Mountains from Santa Barbara on an otherwise clear, sunny day.

Flames approach Calle Real near El Capitan State Park Thursday night and officials decide to close Highway 101 between Goleta and Buellton for second night in a row. Click to view larger
Flames approach Calle Real near El Capitan State Park Thursday night and officials decide to close Highway 101 between Goleta and Buellton for second night in a row.  (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

Everyone should limit their time outdoors, especially people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children, the Air Pollution Control District said.

People are also advised to keep doors and windows closed unless it’s extremely hot, and the weather is expected to heat up over the weekend.

Hot weather is on its way, but people are advised to keep windows and doors closed unless it’s extremely hot. 

“If you have an air conditioner, run it with the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean. If you have a whole-house fan, turn it off unless it is extremely hot. If smoke is not present where you live, take the opportunity to air out your home,” Public Health Director Dr. Takashi Wada said.

Unified Command of the fire is handled by the County Fire Department, U.S. Forest Service and CalFire.

The county’s Emergency Operations Center has been activated, and a base camp for the firefighting effort has been set up at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta.

Click here to sign up for county emergency alerts through the Aware & Prepare program.

Flames got within 20 yards of Highway 101 Wednesday night, “way too close,” California Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Larson said, which caused an overnight closure of all lanes.

A BAe-146 air tanker drops flame retardant on the east flank of the Sherpa Fire Thursday afternoon. Click to view larger
A BAe-146 air tanker drops flame retardant on the east flank of the Sherpa Fire Thursday afternoon. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

The Las Flores Canyon oil and gas processing facility had no structure damage overnight even though the fire "bumped" it overnight, County Fire Chief Eric Peterson said.

The facility has good defensible space and it "paid off last night," he said. It has been mostly idle since the May 19, 2015 Refugio Oil Spill, since the offshore oil platforms shut down after the transportation pipeline ruptured. 

The fire, which started around 3:15 p.m. Wednesday near Refugio Road, caused mandatory evacuations of Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach campgrounds along with areas in Refugio Canyon, Las Flores Canyon, Venadito Canyon and El Capitan Canyon. El Capitan Ranch and Ocean Mesa at El capital were also evacuated. 

Evacuation warnings were expanded Thursday morning to include the area between and including Farren Road to El Capitan Canyon, after the wind-driven fire expanded to about 1,200 acres overnight. That includes Canada de las Destiladera, Las Llagas Canyon, Gato Canyon, Las Varas Canyon, Dos Pueblos Canyon and Eagle Canyon, according to the sheriff's department. People in warning areas should be ready to leave if given evacuation orders, authorities said.  

The area hasn't burned in decades and once winds picked up, the fire burned "like a blowtorch" right through retardant lines, U.S. Forest Services spokesman Andrew Madsen said. 

“I think the concern is holding that thing on the eastern and western flanks and there is really old, dead, heavy fuel out there,” Madsen said Thursday morning.

Firefighters shelter behind an engine as flames approach Calle Real Thursday night. Click to view larger
Firefighters shelter behind an engine as flames approach Calle Real Thursday night.  (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

A Sheriff's Department jail bus was sent to the Refugio campground Wednesday night to pick up about 30 campers who didn't have other transportation, Sheriff Bill Brown said.

The department sent out emergency notification calls to 428 homes and businesses Wednesday, and 395 of those were for mandatory evacuations. 

A Red Cross shelter is located at 300 N. Turnpike Rd. and small crates have been available for small pets.

Forty-one people stayed there Wednesday night and all but three stayed outside the facility in their own campers, according to the county. 

That center will remain open until evacuations are lifted, while the Santa Ynez Union High School shelter was put on standby. 

Major horse evacuations were underway Wednesday, and 83 animals were housed at Earl Warren Showgrounds as of Thursday morning. That includes 50 from Circle Bar B Ranch.

The equine evacuation was assisted by the Humane Society and Equine Evac, according to the county Animal Services Department. 

A tractor-trailer drives past flames in the center divider of Highway 101 at El Capitan State Park Thursday night. Click to view larger
A tractor-trailer drives past flames in the center divider of Highway 101 at El Capitan State Park Thursday night. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

People are asked to call the hotline at 805.681.4332 if they can offer temporary housing for large or small animals. 

Camping reservations at Refugio and El Capitan parks have been canceled through next Friday, State Parks Superintendent Eric Hjelstrom said.

The parks were evacuated and closed as the fire "took a fast run toward the ocean" Wednesday night, with sundowner winds pushing the blaze south, he said. 

Winds in the fire area and along the South Coast were expected to kick up again Thursday afternoon and evening, according to Stuart Seto, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The forecast was calling for sundowners winds of 15-25 mph, with gusts to 35 mph, Seto said.

“They probably won’t be as strong as last night,” Seto said, adding that they will continue “off and on until Sunday.”

That’s when a major warm-up is expected, with highs reaching the 90s on Sunday and Monday.

Record high temperatures for the date are possible on Monday, he added.

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Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

Noozhawk managing 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.

Firefighters keep an eye on the fast-growing Sherpa Fire that started Wednesday afternoon near Refugio Road on the Gaviota Coast. Click to view larger
Firefighters keep an eye on the fast-growing Sherpa Fire that started Wednesday afternoon near Refugio Road on the Gaviota Coast.  (Urban Hikers photo)

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