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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 9:48 am | Fair 56º


Crews Make Progress Containing Front Fire Burning East of Santa Maria

Authorities reopen Highway 166 as containment grows to about 30 percent for the 900-acre blaze


This story was last updated at 1:12 p.m. Tuesday.

The 900-acre Front Fire burning approximately 30 miles east of Santa Maria saw minimal growth Monday, allowing the reopening of Highway 166 as crews continue their battle.

Containment was estimated at 30 percent as of Tuesday morning, and about 620 people were assigned to the fire. 

Los Padres National Forest has been leading the response since the fire broke out around 1:30 p.m. Sunday, near Rock Front Ranch off Highway 166.

Three firefighter injuries were reported as of Tuesday morning, but no details were available, according to Jennifer Gray of Los Padres. 

The "favorable weather" is helping the firefighting effort, and no evacuations were in effect, Gray said in an 11 a.m. update. 

Resources assigned to the Front Fire as of Tuesday included 20 crews, 35 engines, three water tenders, six helicopters and five fixed-wing aircraft.

The Southern California Incident Management Team 2 took over command of the incident at 6 a.m. Tuesday, according to Los Padres officials. 

The 20-hour closure of Highway 166 was felt by Cuyama Joint Unified School District, where the 207 students kicked off the new year Monday.

wildfire Click to view larger
More than 600 firefighting personnel are assigned to the Front Fire burning near Highway 166 and Rock Front Ranch. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

One high school teacher and two teachers at the Cuyama elementary school could not reach the campus due to the highway's closure, but guest teachers handled those duties, Superintendent Stephen Bluestein said. 

"Actually, the most remarkable thing is that in the high school we had zero absences today," Bluestein said, adding that the three elementary school absences were related to illness.

"With the road closures from the (Cuyama) Buckhorn to the sea and our bus route we couldn't go on, the parents got the kids to school which is quite amazing," he added. "I think everyone was anxious for school to start."

While students made it to school, smoke from the Front Fire remained away from the Cuyama Valley campuses on Monday, Bluestein said. 

"It was actually a really good day," Bluestein added.

​The cause of the fire remains under investigation, according to Forest Service representatives. 

While Highway 166 was reopened Monday, Los Padres officials closed the Sierra Madre Road area as a precaution, and requested campers and hunters leave in case flames crossed the highway.

Along with the normal challenges of rough terrain and hot weather, Front Fire crews were struggling with communications since the area has long been known as problematic for radio and cellphone service, Madsen said. Instead, commanders were using satellite phones to assist with communciation. 

Crews from many additional agencies have responded to the Front Fire, including the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Cal Fire and Santa Maria City Fire Department.

The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District advised people near the Front Fire to check air quality conditions and protect their health.

Click here for air quality information. 

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.

firefighter on burned hill Click to view larger
Firefighters from Los Padres National Forest and Santa Barbara County Fire Department, shown here, are among the personnel assigned to the Front Fire burning east of Santa Maria Monday.  (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

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