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A wildland fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base continued to burn out of control Sunday, charring 4,500 acres as of Monday morning as crews coped with hot temperatures, rugged terrain and dry vegetation while protecting critical space launch sites.
Flames could be seen from around the Lompoc Valley on Sunday night and smoke began drifting into the Santa Maria Valley. Lompoc residents also reported ash falling in the city.
The blaze, dubbed the Canyon Fire, sparked at 5:20 p.m. Saturday near Arguello and Santa Ynez roads on the southern portion of the 99,000-acre military base, southwest of Lompoc.
Containment remained at zero percent Monday morning.
As of 11 a.m. Sunday, the fire had charred approximately 500 acres with zero containment and flames spread quickly Sunday, according to Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni.
“The fire continues to burn in heavy fuel, heavy brush, burning in a north-northwesterly direction,” he said.
While winds were light Sunday, officials expected them to increase in the afternoon and the relative humidity to remain low.
“The fire’s expected to remain on Vandenberg property,” Zaniboni said. “It’s not a threat to any state-responsibility land right now or public land, and they’re hoping to keep it that way.”
By later Sunday afternoon, the fire had topped 2,000 acres, according to emergency dispatch reports. There were unconfirmed reports that the blaze had burned beyond VAFB’s eastern boundary, but county officials said Sunday night that it was still confined to the base.
Residents in Miguelito Canyon, which is not part of the base, had been issued precautionary evacuation warnings due to the fire’s activity on Saturday night and Sunday, said Assistant Fire Chief Wayne Seda of the Vandenberg Fire Department, the incident commander for the blaze.
“We had a lot of extreme fire behavior last night, not a lot of wind activity, but just because of the fire activity,” he said Sunday afternoon.
“The vegetation’s very dry and it was burning very well. It jumped roads at times and came out of the containment lines that we had in place originally.”
The fire remained active in all areas, Seda added.
A minimal threat remained for Miguelito Canyon, Zaniboni said Sunday night. Authorities issued the warning to more than 400 contacts, linked to approximately 50 homes in the area, he added.
Click here for an interactive fire map from ENPLAN. Zoom in and click the fire symbols for further details about the Canyon Fire and its progression.
Multiple drivers parked along West Ocean Avenue/Highway 246 to watch helicopters make repeated water drops, filling up at a nearby reservoir.
VAFB officials said “our facilities are intact,” but confirmed power lines had been damaged in the blaze in a remote canyon.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Seda said.
With additional crews arriving to join the fire lines, VAFB officials asked residents to avoid the South Base area and limited access.
“Effective immediately and until further notice, only mission-essential personnel, as designated by their commander, will be granted access to South Base,” VAFB representatives said in a statement.
“Mission-essential personnel who work north of Mesa Road in the South Base cantonment area should utilize the South Base gate to access South base. Mission-essential personnel who work at facilities along Coast Road should enter through the Coast Gate.”
North Base is not affected and personnel should report for their normal duty, VAFB officials added.
The wildfire forced officials to call off Sunday morning’s attempt to launch an Atlas V rocket and its commercial cargo, the WorldView-4 satellite, from Space Launch Complex-3.
The rocket and spacecraft remain secure on the launch pad, which is visible in photographs while the large plume of smoke towers behind the facility.
SLC-3 is in the path of the fire, which is still a couple of miles away, Zaniboni said.
Also nearby is Space Launch Complex-4 where a Space Exploration Technologies Falcon rocket and its 10 Iridium NEXT satellites await liftoff. That launch previously was delayed until at least November following a mishap in Florida when a Falcon rocket exploded on the launch pad.
Canyon Fire management will be turned over to a federal team by Sunday evening, Zaniboni said.
More than 250 Vandenberg AFB, CalFire, Santa Barbara County and U.S. Forest Service firefighters were battling the blaze Sunday afternoon.
The force also includes bulldozers, helicopters and aircraft.
“The teamwork exhibited between the Santa Barbara County, CalFire, U.S. Forest Service and Air Force firefighters is why we have been as successful as we have been fighting this blaze,” said Lt. Col. Edward Simpson, director of the base’s Emergency Operations Center.
“We are grateful to have their support.”
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.