Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 6:56 pm | Fair 66º


Local News

Red Flag Warning Issued for Santa Barbara County as Rey Fire Containment Hits 78%

High winds, warm temperatures and low relative humidity combine to create critical fire weather

The dry, warm and windy conditions predicted through Wednesday morning make the combustion and spread of wildfire much easier, as crews reach higher containment of the Rey Fire.
The dry, warm and windy conditions predicted through Wednesday morning make the combustion and spread of wildfire much easier, as crews reach higher containment of the Rey Fire. (Jude Olivas / California Interagency Incident Management Team photo)

Even though firefighters have reached 78-percent containment with the Rey Fire and are capping its spread, the weather is not yet finished fighting back.

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for the South Coast and Santa Barbara County mountains, starting at 5 p.m. Monday and continuing until 10 a.m. Wednesday.

The warning is issued for already-present or imminent weather conditions — including strong winds, warm temperatures and low relative humidity — that are conducive to fires sparking or rapidly spreading. 

The Santa Barbara area is beginning to transition from high-pressure weather conditions to low-pressure conditions, said Kathy Hoxsie of the National Weather Service’s Oxnard office.

That transition, she said, strengthens the winds, which in turn decreases the relative humidity. The result is more air to blow life into a fire and less moisture in that air to dampen a fire’s environment.

Sundowner winds — warm air blowing down the slopes of the county’s southern mountains and a bane to firefighting efforts — are at their worst in the evening and night, Hoxsie said.

The Red Flag Warning comes as firefighters are focusing on getting a handle on and mopping up the fire’s northeast flank, where high winds could have the greatest effect, said Paul Gibbs, a public information officer with the fire.

“It isn’t a huge worry at this point,” he said.

Planes flying over and examining the area with infrared have not noticed a lot of heat close to control lines, though wind could suddenly push flames over them, he added.

Crews also spent Monday building and shoring up containment lines around the comparatively cool north, west and south sides of the fire.

As of Monday evening, the 11-day-old fire had charred an estimated 32,601 acres and was 78-percent contained.

The acreage was a decrease from the morning's number of 33,006, based on updated mapping, according to Los Padres National Forest officials. 

Nearly 1,100 personnel are still in the Santa Barbara backcountry working to finish the job.

Through Wednesday morning, winds are expected to be north to northeast at 15 to 25 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph.

Relative humidity will be down to 8-15 percent.

Monday and Tuesday are expected to be the warmest days of the week, with highs in Santa Barbara of 85 and 81 degrees for Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

The weather will be much warmer, however, in the Rey Fire area, Hoxsie said.

In the lower-elevation mountains on Tuesday, temperatures are expected to be in the 90s and, for the warmest spots, into the triple digits.

The higher-elevation mountain areas will have temperatures in the mid-80s to low-90s.

The Red Flag Warning also led to the temporary closure of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, at 1212 Mission Canyon Road in the Santa Barbara foothills.

For the duration of the warning, “the garden is voluntarily closing to general visitation in order to reduce traffic in the canyon,” the Botanic Garden said in a statement. “Classes, tours and events during this time are canceled or will be rescheduled.”

The fire, the cause of which remained officially under investigation, began on Aug. 18 near the White Rock Picnic Area about five miles east of Lake Cachuma.

Paradise Road was reopened to the public Sunday evening but Painted Cave Road has been closed to all but residents of the area to avoid conflicts with fire crews using East Camino Cielo for access to the fire. 

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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.

A small vegetation fire started along northbound Highway 101 north of Los Alamos Monday afternoon. Click to view larger
A small vegetation fire started along northbound Highway 101 north of Los Alamos Monday afternoon.  (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

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