Tuesday, April 24 , 2018, 6:22 am | Fog/Mist 51º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Flare-up on Northeast Side of Whittier Fire Puts Up Lots of Smoke over Santa Barbara

Acreage burned now 11,920 with containment rising to 48%; most-active burning was in the Hot Spring Canyon area

 
A 3-D map shows the active northeast flank of the Whittier Fire in relation to other areas that might be threatened by flames. Click to enlarge. Click to view larger
A 3-D map shows the active northeast flank of the Whittier Fire in relation to other areas that might be threatened by flames. Click to enlarge. (Ray Ford map)

A dramatic column of smoke rising from the Whittier Fire on Tuesday afternoon drove home the point that, although firefighters have made considerable progress controlling the blaze, the battle was far from over.

"There was a lot of fire activity this afternoon,” said Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. "I’m sure most of Santa Barbara and Goleta could see."

Driven by winds from the west gusting to about 15 mph, flames on the northeastern flank of the fire moved down into Hot Spring Canyon south of Highway 154, near the Rancho San Marcos Golf Course, and made a run up a west-facing slope into adjacent Bear Creek Canyon, Zaniboni said.

Firefighters made an aggressive counter attack from the ground and from the air, and the winds subsided as night fell.

"Things have settled down now," Zanboni said at about 7:30 p.m. "It's still well within the area of expectation. We're expecting that fire to continue to die down through the evening."

Firefighters were buoyed by a forecast calling for rising humidity and little wind overnight, and the expectation that dangerous down-slope sundowner winds are unlikely for at least several days.

At the 7 a.m. briefing for firefighters at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta on Wednesday, officials announced that the fire had grown to 11,920 acres and was 48 percent contained.

Updated map of the Whittier Fire as of Wednesday morning. Black line indicates completed containment line. (Click map to enlarge) Click to view larger
Updated map of the Whittier Fire as of Wednesday morning. Black line indicates completed containment line. (Click map to enlarge)

On Wednesday morning, Zaniboni reported that similar flare-ups were possible throughout the day. He noted that while coastal areas are experiencing morning fog and low clouds, the inland areas of the fire are in sun, which increases burning.

"All fire activity is well within the area operations people are working on," Zaniboni added. "This is expected fire behavior."

The blaze, which broke out Saturday afternoon near Camp Whittier, has been burning mainly between Lake Cachuma and Highway 154 on the north and the ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains on the south. The area includes decades-old chaparral and steep, inaccessible terrain.

The flames did cross the ridge in places on Saturday night, presenting a threat to communities at the base of the mountains in western Goleta.

A panoramic view of the eastern flank of the Whittier Fire from Highway 154 Tuesday evening showed heavy smoke over Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
A panoramic view of the eastern flank of the Whittier Fire from Highway 154 Tuesday evening showed heavy smoke over Santa Barbara.  (Ray Ford / 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.

Earlier in the afternoon Tuesday, Zaniboni noted that after a day of moderate fire behavior, the blaze had expanded.

“It’s eating up some more acreage,” he told Noozhawk. “But we expected some more fire activity today, just because there’s sun out.”

Other areas of the fire appeared quieter as crews continued building containment lines.

Bulldozers and hand crews spent another day constructing containment lines on the fire's western flank, but were slowed by the steep and rugged terrain on the upper slopes.

On the southern flank of the fire, above the neighborhoods of Western Goleta, crews continued the efforts to construct containment lines along the avocado and citrus orchards at the base of the mountains.

Sarah Dent, 12, whose father is a teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, offers cupcakes she made to firefighters. Click to view larger
Sarah Dent, 12, whose father is a teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, offers cupcakes she made to firefighters. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

The northern flank along Highway 154 and Lake Cachuma is where most of the containment has occurred already, and crews were continuing to patrol and douse hotspots there.

A fire-retardant dipping site for helicopters opened near Highway 154 and Cathedral Oaks to support fire operations.

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.

The evacuation order for the northern end of Farren Road west of Goleta was downgraded Tuesday morning to an evacuation warning. Only residents served by Farren Road will be allowed through the barricades.

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.

A fire retardant dipping site for helicopters opened near Highway 154 and Cathedral Oaks to support Whittier Fire operations. Click to view larger
A fire retardant dipping site for helicopters opened near Highway 154 and Cathedral Oaks to support Whittier Fire operations.  (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

Law enforcement is patrolling the evacuation areas, and as soon as it is safe, will communicate how and when people can re-enter the area to retrieve personal items left behind during the evacuation.

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.

More than 700 firefighters have been assigned to the blaze, including 62 fire engines, 11 hand-crews, 8 bulldozers, 8 helicopters, and 2 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, but officials have reported seeing private vehicles in the area, which they note is extremely unsafe for motorists, hikers, public safety officials and firefighting crews.

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.

With a column of smoke from the Whittier Fire rising behind, firefighters attend the evening briefing at Dos Pueblos High School. Click to view larger
With a column of smoke from the Whittier Fire rising behind, firefighters attend the evening briefing at Dos Pueblos High School. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)
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