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Crews Continuing to Battle Brush Fire Raging South of Carpinteria

1,250-acre blaze estimated at 60% contained Saturday night; Highway 101 reopened in both directions

A view of the Solimar Fire from the cockpit of Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Aviation Unit Copter 7, which made water drops through the night on the blaze.
A view of the Solimar Fire from the cockpit of Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Aviation Unit Copter 7, which made water drops through the night on the blaze. (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Aviation Unit photo)

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Working from the ground and from the air, firefighters on Saturday were continuing to battle a wind-driven vegetation fire that broke out the previous night along Highway 101 near Solimar Beach south of Carpinteria.

The fire prompted evacuations, and forced the closure of the freeway between Carpinteria and Ventura, creating a major aggravation for holiday travelers.

Highway 101 was reopened to traffic in both directions shortly before 2 p.m.

“Right now Caltrans is assessing the freeway,” Norm Plott, division chief for the Ventura County Fire Department, said during a midmorning news conference at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura. “Some of the guard rails were burned.

“As long as things are clear and the firefighters can work safely ... it’s a priority to make sure the highway is opened up as soon as we can do it safely.”

The two-alarm blaze, which was reported arond 11 p.m. Friday, had charred an estimated 250 acres in the Solimar Beach area as of 1 a.m. Saturday, according to Ventura County Fire Capt. Mike Lindbery.

Within an hour, the Ventura County Office of Emergency Services reported the fire had grown to 900 acres.

By 2 p.m. Saturday, it was estimated to be 1,250 acres.

Containment was estimated at 60 percent as of Saturday night. Plott estimated it would take at least three days to bring the blaze under control.

Authorities blamed the fire on arcing power lines battered by 50 mph wind gusts.

A Santa Barbara County crew attacks a hot spot on the Solimar Fire burning north of Highway 101 south of Carpinteria on Saturday. Click to view larger
A Santa Barbara County crew attacks a hot spot on the Solimar Fire burning north of Highway 101 south of Carpinteria on Saturday. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

Ventura County Battalion Chief Fred Burris described a chaotic scene when the first units arrived at the fire.

“We had fire immediately impinging on Highway 101,” he said. “Vehicles caught in the fire were making U-turns and driving toward other motorists who were unaware of the problem. We requested immediate closure of the freeway.

“We had a lot of severe conditions, with the high winds that were aligned with the canyons.”

Highway 101 and Pacific Coast Highway were closed in the area as crews struggled to contain the fire, which was being fanned by sustained winds gusting to nearly 50 mph.

The California Highway Patrol closed Highway 101 between Bates Road in Carpinteria and Highway 33 in Ventura. According to the Ventura County emergency services website, Highway 150 remained open but very congested.

The fire, which began in the hills above Highway 101, was burning in light vegetation, but steep and loose terrain, Lindbery said.

The fire began high in the hills and was blown down toward the highway and the coast, Plott said.

The Solimar Beach fire burns in the hills north of Ventura. Click to view larger
The Solimar Beach fire burns in the hills north of Ventura. (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Aviation Unit photo)

Lindbery said some 30 homes in the Solimar Beach area were threatened, and were being protected by engine crews. The neighborhood had been evacuated earlier.

There also was concern about other structures in the the area of Taylor Ranch near Highways 101 and 33 in Ventura, Lindbery said.

The area has a number of oil-production facilities, as well.

Campgrounds at Solimar Beach and Emma Wood State Beach were emptied out by a mandatory evacuation early Saturday, and Faria Beach residents and campers at Faria Beach Park were under a voluntary evacuation.

Amtrak and Union Pacific train service through the area were halted, Lindbery said, but the rail lines were reopened at about 9:45 a.m.

The closure of Highway 101 forced weekend holiday traffic to be rerouted to Highway 150 through Ojai and Interstate 5 over the Grapevine.

The American Red Cross Pacific Coast Chapter opened a shelter at the Carpinteria Veterans Memorial Building, 941 Walnut Ave.

Authorities say 600 firefighters were on the scene or en route to the fire.

They include a strike team of five Santa Barbara County Fire Department engines that was dispatched early Saturday. Also helping out are a county water tender and helicopter, and one engine each from the Carpinteria-Summerland and Montecito fire departments.

Numerous firefighting aircraft — both fixed-wing and helicopters — also joined the fight, but some were released Saturday afternoon.

Strong winds have been sweeping the South Coast this month, and a National Weather Service wind advisory is in effect through Saturday morning.

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

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.

A Ventura County Fire Department engine is dwarfed by flames from the Solimar Beach fire burning along Highway 101 north of Ventura. Click to view larger
A Ventura County Fire Department engine is dwarfed by flames from the Solimar Beach fire burning along Highway 101 north of Ventura. (Ryan Cullom photo)

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