Tuesday, September 18 , 2018, 8:38 pm | Fair 68º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Watershed Protection a Priority as Rey Fire Burns Deep Into Santa Barbara Backcountry

Blaze had blackened 29,664 acres and was 30-percent contained Tuesday morning; flames moving north and east toward the Dick Smith Wilderness, Mono Creek, and the Zaca Fire burn area

A Blackhawk helicopters draws water from Gibraltar Reservoir Monday while battling the Rey Fire in the Santa Barbara backcountry. Protecting the county’s vital watersheds is a priority in fighting the blaze. Click to view larger
A Blackhawk helicopters draws water from Gibraltar Reservoir Monday while battling the Rey Fire in the Santa Barbara backcountry. Protecting the county’s vital watersheds is a priority in fighting the blaze. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

[Click here for a gallery of related photos]

As the Rey Fire continued to char its way deep into the Santa Barbara backcountry, officials were taking steps to protect key parts of the county's watershed, including Gibraltar Reservoir on the Upper Santa Ynez River.

The fire had blackened an estimated 29,664 acres and was 30-percent contained as of Tuesday morning.

"The fire was active today, spreading primarily to the east and north," said Jennifer Gray, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman. "The fire has reached the Zaca Fire scar in the northeast, which is slowing growth.

"On the east side, firefighters are using existing infrastructure (roads and old bulldozer lines) to construct containment lines near Mono Creek."

Most of the containment had been achieved on the fire's west and south flanks.

A priority for crews in the coming days is minimizing fire impacts to the Santa Ynez watershed, including Gibraltar and Lake Cachuma downstream, which supplies 80 percent of the water to the South Coast, and is also a source for the Santa Ynez and Lompoc valleys, according to public information officer Rich Griguoli.

A firefighters walks through the barren landscape around LIttle Pine Mountain after flames from the Rey Fire burned through the area. Click to view larger
A firefighters walks through the barren landscape around LIttle Pine Mountain after flames from the Rey Fire burned through the area. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Cruz Creek and Santa Ynez watersheds, which are critical water sources for southern Santa Barbara County, are threatened by the blaze.

“During the (2007) Zaca Fire, there was a lot of sediment going into the lake from run-off, and that harms the water,” Griguoli said. “It does long-term damage. This is a priority we are trying to address, and we understand that it is crucial.”

The Zaca Fire, which broke out in early July 2007, burned for some two months, and charred 240,207 acres in Los Padres National Forest. 

On Monday, flames were rapidly consuming large swaths of old, dry vegetation, moving north and east toward the Dick Smith Wilderness, Mono Creek, and the Zaca Fire burn area.

Structures potentially in the path of the flames include the historic U.S. Forest Service Santa Cruz Guard Station, the Doty Cabin, and the Ogilvy Ranch, and plans were being made to protect them.

Flames from the Rey Fire burned down to Upper Oso Campground. Click to view larger
Flames from the Rey Fire burned down to Upper Oso Campground. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

The Peachtree and Little Pine campgrounds also are affected.

The blaze is burning through parched chaparral, oak trees and grass — some in areas that have no recorded fire history, according to fire behavior analyst Robb Beery.

“The fire moved a lot today, and spread a little over two miles to the east,” Beery said. “That is the direction we have had, and that is the fire spread we expect over the next few days. Some areas of the fire are going to keep active all night. In the right fuels, it is going to keep burning."

As the blaze grows, people can expect to see falling ash and smoke visible from Santa Barbara, Montecito and Carpinteria, as well as the North County.

Pyrocumulus clouds filled the Santa Barbara sky Monday afternoon before a gray haze took over the horizon from the Rey Fire smoke. Click to view larger
Pyrocumulus clouds filled the Santa Barbara sky Monday afternoon before a gray haze took over the horizon from the Rey Fire smoke.  (Steve Kennedy photo)

“There was a big fire spread today and a lot of ash fall," Beery said. "Over the next few days, high-level winds are expected to push the smoke into the Santa Barbara area."

Nearly 1,400 fire personnel are assigned to the blaze, including 42 hand crews, 14 helicopters, 51 engines, 21 bulldozers, 29 water tenders, six air tankers, and two VLATs (Very Large Air Tankers).

More road closures went into effect Monday, with most of East Camino Cielo shut down to non-resident traffic to make easier access for fire equipment, said Gina DePinto, Santa Barbara County communications manager.

East Camino Cielo is closed between Painted Cave Road and Gibraltar Road, which also was closed down to the Santa Barbara city limits.

A DC-10 crosses over the Gibraltar Reservoir to make a phos-chek drop Monday afternoon. Click to view larger
A DC-10 crosses over the Gibraltar Reservoir to make a phos-chek drop Monday afternoon. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

Residents can still get through since there are no evacuations for that area. 

Paradise Road remained closed to all traffic with mandatory evacuations in effect for homes, campgrounds and the Probation Department's Los Prietos Boys Camp. The evacuations won't be lifted until at least Wednesday, she added.

Residents have been calling and asking to go home, she said. There is no imminent threat of fire in that area anymore, but firefighting access is an issue because of the narrow, winding roadways. 

The Los Prietos boys were evacuated to Santa Maria Juvenile Hall Thursday, right as the fire was discovered, according to probation manager Kristina Brumbaugh. 

Parents were notified and the boys will stay in Santa Maria until fire personnel say it's safe to return. 

"The camp program will continue at the new location without disruption to their rehabilitation and education," she said. 

A Santa Barbara County brush truck and water tender make their way to their next assignment on the Rey Fire. Click to view larger
A Santa Barbara County brush truck and water tender make their way to their next assignment on the Rey Fire. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

The majority of fire spread happens between 2 and 6 p.m. and smoke again obscured the Santa Barbara horizon Monday afternoon, casting an orange light on some areas of town. 

The most active area of the fire remained the eastern section, near Camuesa Peak and Alexander Peak, south of Little Pine Mountain and north of Gibraltar Reservoir, about 16 miles north of Santa Barbara.

The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District and Public Health Department issued another air quality watch Monday because of the smoke from the Rey Fire. Daily air quality monitor results can be viewed here.

Noozhawk Executive Editor Tom Bolton and Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this report.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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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