Monday, February 19 , 2018, 7:01 am | Fair 47º

 
 
 
 

Local News

With Help of Favorable Weather, Whittier Fire Reaches 25% Containment

Lack of gusty sundowner winds allows firefighters to make progress despite rugged terrain

The Whittier Fire burns Monday on the north side of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The blaze was 25 percent contained as of Tuesday morning. Click to view larger
The Whittier Fire burns Monday on the north side of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The blaze was 25 percent contained as of Tuesday morning. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)
An updated map of the Whittier Fire shows areas of containment, marked by black line. Click to view larger
An updated map of the Whittier Fire shows areas of containment, marked by black line.

Favorable weather conditions on Monday allowed firefighters to make progress in corralling the Whittier Fire, and they headed into the night exuding a quiet confidence about the days ahead.

Containment stood at 25 percent as of the 7 a.m. Tuesday briefing for firefighters at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, after being stuck at 5 percent or less for most of the last two days.

Most of the containment was on the northern flank, along Highway 154 and Lake Cachuma, and on the northwestern edge.

The area charred stood officially at 10,823 acres, which was unchanged from the morning figure.

The fire started Saturday afternoon and has damaged or destroyed eight residences and 12 outbuildings, mainly in the area of Rancho Alegre Outdoor School and Boy Scout Camp.

No serious injuries have been reported.

Fire managers were expecting a quiet night Monday, aided by partly cloudy skies, light winds, and higher humidity.

Weather has been a huge factor in the progress of the blaze, and firefighters have been grateful for a lack of gusty, down-slope sundowner winds that could propel flames into populated areas in western Goleta.

The forecast the next few days calls for cloudy conditions overnight, with fog and low clouds giving way to sunny skies during the day, a good combination for continued progress taming the fire.

Monday saw relatively quiet conditions on the blaze, although there were several flare-ups the sent plumes of smoke high into the air.

Most of the fire has remained on the north slope of the Santa Ynez Mountains, an area that hasn’t burned since the giant Refugio Fire in 1955.

A helicopter makes a water drop Monday on the Whittier Fire. Click to view larger
A helicopter makes a water drop Monday on the Whittier Fire. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

The dense, decades-old chaparral and oak forest has been further stressed by drought in the last few years.

In addition, the ample rainfall this year has produced a heavier-than-normal crop of grasses, which has allowed flames to spread more quickly.

On the eastern flank of the fire, bulldozers spent Monday carving containment lines from the Winchester Gun Club on West Camino Cielo down toward Highway 154.

Bulldozers also made good progress building containment lines along the avocado and citrus orchards at the base of the mountains on the southern flank of the fire.

On the western side, hand crews worked to construct containment lines up toward the ridge.

A 3-D map shows the burn area of the Whittier Fire as of Sunday night. Click to view larger
A 3-D map shows the burn area of the Whittier Fire as of Sunday night. (Photo courtesy of WildfireToday.com)

Several areas, including the Highway 154 corridor, remained under evacuation orders while others, such as some areas of Goleta below the fire, had evacuation warnings in effect.

The mandatory evacuation order for the residences at the north end of Farren Road was downgraded Tuesday morning to an evacution warning.

Some 3,500 people had been evacuated due to the fire as of Sunday afternoon.

The American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast Chapter has been operating evacuation centers at San Marcos High School, at 4750 Hollister Ave. near Goleta, and at the Minami Community Center, 600 W. Enos Drive in Santa Maria for people displaced by the Whittier Fire and the Alamo Fire burning in northern Santa Barbara County. 

A map shows location of the Whittier Fire in relation to other major local fires over the years. Click to view larger
A map shows location of the Whittier Fire in relation to other major local fires over the years. (Map courtesy @SBSurfing)

An estimated 90 percent of the Rancho Alegre buildings burned in the Whittier Fire Saturday, said Carlos Cortez, the scout executive for the Boy Scouts of America Los Padres Council. A summer camp planned to start Monday was canceled. 

Michael Baker, CEO of the United Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara County, which operates Camp Whittier, said they lost a maintenance shed to the fire and the mobile home of Robert Fortune, the camp’s maintenance provider. 

Fortune and his wife, Pam Nelson, rushed to safety with minutes to spare as the fire burned toward them Saturday. 

Highway 154 remained closed between Highway 246 and Foothill Road in Santa Barbara because of the fire, and many local roads within the evacuation areas are also closed, including West Camino Cielo at Highway 154, Kinevan at Highway 154, Farren Road at Vereda del Padre, and Old San Marcos Road at Via Parva. 

Click here for a map of current road closures from the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department. 

Caltrans District 5 has up-to-date highway closure information here.

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.

Smoke billows up Monday from the Whittier Fire. Click to view larger
Smoke billows up Monday from the Whittier Fire. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)
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