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For 2nd Time, Washington Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base Said to be 100 Percent Contained

In flurry of reversals, VAFB officials express confidence about North Base blaze and fire near Lompoc federal prison

A firefighting aircraft makes a retardant drop on a blaze burning Friday afternoon on Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
A firefighting aircraft makes a retardant drop on a blaze burning Friday afternoon on Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The Washington Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base is 100 percent contained, officials said Saturday night.

High winds were blowing when the 224-acre blaze ignited Thursday afternoon in the area of 13th Street and Washington Avenue on the North Base, leading officials to send base personnel home early.

“Good progress is being made today and officials are optimistic they will be able to have the fire fully contained in the next day or two,” Vandenberg public affairs officials said in a written statement Saturday.

Base officials say that status also applied to the Oak Canyon Fire, which started near the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex on Friday afternoon. That fire charred 30 acres, VAFB officials said Friday.

Downed power lines sparked the Washington Fire, which burned in the heart of the base Thursday.

On Saturday afternoon, VAFB officials said the Washington Fire was 50 percent contained, a day after announcing the fire was controlled. Hours later, they reported that containment was back up to 100 percent.

In CalFire and U.S. Forest Service terminology, containment involves surrounding a fire on all sides by some sort of boundary, a fire line or roadway. Control refers to a fire no longer in danger of jumping outside the boundaries, with the firefight essentially over except for mop-up of hot spots.

It’s not clear if the Washington Fire was ever controlled, and the wrong word was used, or if the fire sparked again.

Because the fires are on military property, Air Force officials have insisted only they can release information although federal firefighting public information personnel are part of the incident management team brought to the Central Coast.

Information about the fires burning on the 99,000-acre military base has been delayed for hours while the details have made their way through several levels of the Air Force approval process before being released to the media and the public.

While VAFB officials claimed Friday night that the Canyon Fire was fully contained, federal sources said Saturday that the South Base blaze remains at 96 percent containment with 12,742 acres burned.

The Canyon Fire broke out at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 17, and raced across the rugged terrain, which is home to several aerospace launch facilities and support equipment.

Hot spots within the fire sites are likely to smolder for several days, VAFB representatives said. 

There are unconfirmed reports that support facilities were damaged by the flames, but VAFB officials refuse to discuss damage, saying only that initial assessments are underway.

While mum about damage, VAFB officials have confirmed that crews have started cleaning fire retardant dropped on buildings and facilities during the response to the Washington Fire.

The cause of the Canyon Fire remains under investigation.

Vandenberg will resume normal operations Monday, officials said.

“However, damaged vegetation, unstable ground and smoldering debris continue to pose a safety hazard to personnel within the burn area,” base officials advised workers and residents.

“As we return to work on Monday stay on improved surfaces such as sidewalks and paved roads. Do not venture into burned areas.”

The price tag for containing the Canyon Fire climbed above $12.2 million, according to a federal website.

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.

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