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Crews Battling Whittier Fire Prepare for Expected Sundowner Winds

Water-dropping helicopters used to douse hot spots ahead of gusty conditions; containment remains at 87%

A map shows the area of the Whittier Fire, which remained at 18,430 acres charred and 87 percent contained on Monday. Black line represents containment, while red indicates open fire line. Click to view larger
A map shows the area of the Whittier Fire, which remained at 18,430 acres charred and 87 percent contained on Monday. Black line represents containment, while red indicates open fire line. (U.S. Forest Service map)

With hot, dry and gusty conditions predicted during the evening hours on Monday, firefighters assigned to the Whittier Fire were focused on dousing hot spots along the rugged southern flank of the blaze.

“We’re using the helicopters at our disposal to really hammer that last uncontained piece of line,” said Andrew Madsen, a spokesman for Los Padres National Forest, which is now managing the blaze.

The 18,430-acre fire, which has been burning since July 8 in the Santa Ynez Mountains between Lake Cachuma and the coast west of Goleta, has remained at 87-percent contained for about 10 days.

The final 13 percent of open line — roughly 5 miles long — is in steep and rugged terrain stretching from the top of Eagle Canyon to the top of Dos Pueblos Canyon on the coastal side of the mountains, Madsen said.

“We can’t really put firefighters in there to cut line,” he noted. “It’s because that’s just up-and-down terrain out there.”

Contingency lines remain in place below the fire in case the flames were to be rekindled and blown downslope by the expected sundowner winds Monday night.

Some 125 Forest Service personnel were assigned to the fire as of Monday afternoon, Madsen said.

The estimated date for full containment of the blaze is Aug. 30, Madsen said, adding that containment costs thus far have totalled $38.4 million.

A Red Flag Fire Warning — which indicates critical fire weather conditions are either occurring or will be shortly — was issued by the National Weather Service beginning at 5 p.m. Monday and extending until 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Forecasters also have issued a Wind Advisory, and are expecting sustained north to northwest winds of 15-20 miles per hour, with gusts to 45 mph, said John Dumas, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Dry conditions also are expected, with humidity falling to the 10-15-percent range, Dumas said.

“It’s not expected to be howling, but enough with the dry conditions to merit the Red Flag warning," Dumas added.

The strongest winds will start out from Goleta westward, Dumas said, but will shift to the northeast later Monday night, which would have more effect on Santa Barbara and Montecito.

Temperatures were predicted to top out in the high-80s Monday, dropping to the low-60s overnight, with partly cloudy skies.

On Tuesday, monsoonal moisture from the south will begin moving into the region, increasing humidity and reducing the fire risk.

“We’re looking at the moisture coming up from the southwest, kind of like it did last week, but maybe more this week,” Dumas said.

The best chance of rainfall along the coast will be Wednesday, he said, noting that showers are possible through the week for inland mountain areas.

While rainfall would help reduce the fire danger, there also is a chance of dry lighting, which could spark new wildfires.

Daytime highs are expected to remain in the mid- to upper-80s along the coast through the end of the week, with gradual cooling over the weekend. Temperatures likely will be several degrees warmer inland.

Overnight lows should be in the low- to mid-60s.

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.

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