Friday, September 21 , 2018, 11:28 pm | Mostly Cloudy 59º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Over 7,800 Acres Burned as Whittier Fire Rages Out of Control Near Lake Cachuma

90 children and 50 staff members rescued from Circle V Ranch Camp; flames crest Santa Ynez Mountains and are visible from South Coast

 

A vegetation fire near Lake Cachuma in the Santa Ynez Valley remained “completely out of control” on Sunday, and residents and campers were evacuated throughout the area, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Charred terrain in the Santa Ynez Valley Sunday in the wake of the Whittier Fire. Click to view larger
Charred terrain in the Santa Ynez Valley Sunday in the wake of the Whittier Fire. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

The most recent size-up indicated the wildfire that started along Highway 154 near Lake Cachuma had blackened more than 7,800 acres, a number that undoubtedly will continue to grow as the blaze burns.

Containment was at 5 percent as of the Sunday morning brief.

“We’ve got air tankers really hitting it hard at the head on the east and on the south edge, to keep it from going over the ridge (toward the South Coast),” fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said Saturday, before the fire crested the ridgeline.

The south side of the blaze, where the flames went up the Santa Ynez range and breached the ridge in the area of Condor Ridge, charring some 1,500 acres, will be the priority on Sunday.

"That's the priority today," Zaniboni said. "The aircraft will be hitting it hard."

Flames were clearly visible from western Goleta above Tecolote, Eagle and Las Varas canyons.

Winds in the area were light.

Just before 10 p.m., an evacuation warning was issued for the area north of Highway 101, from Winchester Canyon Road west to Las Varas Canyon. Residents in the area were encouraged to prepare for possible evacuation.

Shortly before midnight, the residents at the upper end of Farren Road were ordered to evacuate.

Flames from the Whittier Fire near Lake Cachuma burn through a ranch on the south side of Highway 154 on Saturday afternoon. Click to view larger
Flames from the Whittier Fire near Lake Cachuma burn through a ranch on the south side of Highway 154 on Saturday afternoon. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

The blaze started at about 1:40 p.m. Saturday near Camp Whittier, at 2400 Highway 154, and may have been sparked by a car fire, according to the California Highway Patrol.

At Circle V Ranch Camp & Retreat Center, 2550 Highway 154, some 90 children and 50 staff members were unable to be evacuated because of the fire’s erratic conditions, Zaniboni said.

He said they were sheltering in place at the camp, protected by U.S. Forest Service firefighters who were with them.

After several hours, the group was able to leave safely, Zaniboni said. Buses from the Chumash Casino Resort brought them to Mission Santa Inés in Solvang, where they were reunited with their families.

Several structures in the area of the camp were damaged or destroyed by flames, Zaniboni said.

Flames burn intensely Saturday in the area of the Circle V Ranch Camp & Retreat Center in the Santa Ynez Valley. Click to view larger
Flames burn intensely Saturday in the area of the Circle V Ranch Camp & Retreat Center in the Santa Ynez Valley. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

There also were reports that many of the buildings at Rancho Alegre Boy Scout Camp, 2680 Highway 154, were destroyed by fire. The Outdoor School at Rancho Alegre serves as the home for science camp for many sixth-graders in the county.

A sheriff’s patrol vehicle broke down along the highway, and was destroyed by the fire.

Nearby Camp Whittier, which gave the fire its name, was evacuated, and Highway 154 was shut down between Highway 246 and Santa Barbara, the CHP said.

The Sheriff’s Department issued an immediate evacuation order of the Highway 154 corridor in the Lake Cachuma area, including Paradise Road and West Camino Cielo.

The Lake Cachuma campground also was being evacuated, Zaniboni said.

Evacuation centers were opened at San Marcos High School, 4750 Hollister Ave. in Santa Barbara, and Santa Ynez School, 3325 Pine St. in Santa Ynez.

An out-building burns at Camp Whittier in the Santa Ynez Valley on Saturday. Click to view larger
An out-building burns at Camp Whittier in the Santa Ynez Valley on Saturday. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

Flames were moving in an eastward direction, and burning on both sides of Highway 154. By 5 p.m., they had traveled about three miles from where the fire started.

As of 5:30 p.m. flames had reached Live Oak Camp, but the rate of spread had slowed considerably.

Temperatures in the area of the fire were reported to be around 100 degrees, with west winds of 15-18 mph. Humidity was an arid 18 percent.

The towering column of smoke from the fire was visible throughout Santa Barbara County.

Small animals that owners can evacuate were being accepted at the Santa Barbara Humane Society, 5399 Overpass Road in Santa Barbara, and people with questions or need of assistance evacuating large animals, including horses, were advised to call 805.681.4332.

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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.

(Noozhawk video)

Map of the Whittier Fire as of Saturday night. Click to view larger
Map of the Whittier Fire as of Saturday night. (Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management illustration)

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