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Los Padres National Forest Taking Over Command of Whittier Fire

The Whittier Fire map for July 24 shows the containment line still red (uncontrolled) on the southern edge of the burn area. Click to view larger
The Whittier Fire map for July 24 shows the containment line still red (uncontrolled) on the southern edge of the burn area.  (Courtesy photo)

Los Padres National Forest officials are taking over command of the Whittier Fire as crews work on increasing containment in the front country above western Goleta. 

The fire’s 18,340 burned acres and 87 percent containment were unchanged Tuesday, and officials don’t expect any forward progress for the blaze, which is burning in the Santa Ynez Mountains south of Lake Cachuma.

Officials estimate full containment of the fire on July 30.

Los Padres National Forest Battalion Chief Curt Schwram will be heading the Whittier Fire command starting Wednesday.

A California Interagency Incident Management Team 3, headed by Mark von Tillow, has had command of the firefighting efforts up to this point.

“Schwram will be managing a much leaner operation with a focus on detecting and extinguishing heat sources near the line, containment and fire suppression repair,” Whittier Fire command officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Los Padres National Forest Whittier Fire management will be based out of the Santa Barbara Ranger District Office at 3505 Paradise Rd.

There were 511 personnel assigned to the fire Tuesday and a Burned Area Emergency Response team is evaluating watersheds and environmental impacts of the fire, officials said.

BAER teams can install erosion and runoff water control devices and long-term recovery efforts can include restoring vegetation in burn areas.   

Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Eric Peterson told the Board of Supervisors last week that there will be a lot of rehabilitation work once the Whittier Fire is out.

County officials are already concerned about erosion in burn areas, which could impact Lake Cachuma’s capacity.

“We are going to be concerned particularly in the area above Cachuma, the north slope,” Peterson said. “I remember Scott (McGolpin) and Tom Fayram (of the Public Works Department) were worried about what would happen if we lost that slope, and we lost that slope this year.

“If we have significant rains next year, you can imagine the impact it might have on Highway 154 and the huge amount of silt that could go into Cachuma and lessen the capacity of that lake, so there’s a lot of work ahead of us well after the fire is out.”

All evacuation warnings and orders have been lifted for the Whittier Fire and only one road closure remains in effect: West Camino Cielo from the Winchester Gun Club to Refugio Road.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, though preliminary reports indicated it may have been sparked by a vehicle fire.

Most of the injuries reported during the firefighting efforts have been heat-related or poison oak.

There have been more than 400 cases of poison oak reported by firefighting personnel and more than 50 people required prednisone shots, according to fire officials.

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.

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