Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 9:37 am | Overcast 63º

 
 
 
 

Hib Halverson: Thanks to All Who Fought the Sherpa Fire

A Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane “dips” from a portable fire retardant tank at a temporary helittack base in Goleta during the Sherpa Fire. Click to view larger
A Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane “dips” from a portable fire retardant tank at a temporary helittack base in Goleta during the Sherpa Fire. (Hib Halverson)

On the afternoon of June 22, the seventh day of the Sherpa Fire, I had to make a grocery run. As I turned left onto Cathedral Oaks Road, at the stop sign was a Los Padres National Forest engine company. I gave them a thumbs-up as I went by.

Behind the first engine were three more LPF engines, all of which were heading back to the Goleta Command Center at Dos Pueblos High School after a long day on the fire line. I gave all those firefighters the thumbs-up, too. They all waved in appreciation.

As I drove south on Cathedral Oaks, I thought, “Do we owe those guys some thanks, or what?”

As of June 27, the Sherpa Fire had consumed 7,474 acres and was 93 percent contained. The uncontained part of the fire is the extreme northeast corner where terrain is too dangerous for hand crews to work. That area has been drenched from the air with water and fire-retardant, and crews will watch it carefully for hot spots and respond accordingly with air attack.

The fire camp at Dos Pueblos High has “demobilized” and the incident command has moved to the Los Padres National Forest supervisor’s office in Goleta because the USFS has assumed incident command of what’s left of the fire.

At this point, there are 152 firefighters, spread among five crews, seven fire engines, seven water tenders and three helicopters still on duty.

For most of us, events of mid-June are receding into history. Pondering that idea, I thought, “Wow! What a difference a week makes in the wildfire suppression biz.”

Remember the nights of June 15 and 16? For people living between Refugio Road and Calle Lippizana, the situation was chaotic. The wind-driven Sherpa Fire raged out of control down the slopes east of Refugio Road to El Capitán Canyon where the it jumped Highway 101.

The homes and ranches that dot the area between Refugio Road and Farren Road on the far west end of Goleta were either evacuated or warned to be ready to evacuate. Three hundred-foot flames could be seen by people on roofs in Goleta, campers trapped at El Capitán State Beach with no transportation were rescued by Santa Barbara County sheriff’s buses, and Highway 101 between Winchester Canyon and Gaviota and, later, Buellton was closed.

If you need to see the evidence, look at the Sherpa Fire photo collection elsewhere on Noozhawk.

For several days, the Sherpa Fire was the top priority incident in the southern half of California. Hard work by hand crews, a squadron of bulldozers, aggressive structure protection by scores of engine companies from all over the state, a massive attack by both fixed-wing and rotarywing firefighting aircraft, and, thankfully, some cooperation by the weather during the day, our heroic firefighters were able to prevent a disaster of epic proportions.

While some valuable agricultural and ranch land was damaged, only one structure was lost, the ground-water treatment plant for the campground at El Capitán State Beach. There were only five injuries to firefighters and no injuries to residents, and no livestock was lost.

We all owe Santa Barbara County firefighters, CalFire, the forest service and all the mutual-aid firefighters who came to help a big THANK YOU!

There were, also, a lot of “nonfirefighters” who joined the effort that defeated the Sherpa Fire. The two DC-10s and some of the other fixed-wing aircraft that drop fire-retardant, are flown by private contractors. All the heavy-lift helicopters that drop water and fire-retardant are flown by private contractors. The water tenders that support all those copters that were “dipping” at the Cathedral Oaks Road and other temporary helittack bases were driven by private contractors.

People had to feed the fire crews. People had to haul in supplies for the fire camp. All of those folks busted their butts to support efforts for firefighters to keep people safe and to save homes and livestock. They may not be “firefighters” with badges and hoses, but they helped fight the Sherpa Fire.

As a resident of West Goleta, I appreciate the effort of all who contributed to the effort to extinguish the Sherpa Fire.

— Hib Halverson has lived in Goleta since 2001, and has been an El Encanto Heights resident since 2010. He is a former newspaper photographer and currently works as a technical writer. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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