Firefighters were continuing to search for the cause of a fire that shut down northbound Highway 101 in Carpinteria on Saturday night, and again early Sunday morning.
The blaze in a storm drain system beneath the freeway was first spotted shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday by Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District personnel who were out picking up dinner, according to Christina Favuzzi, public information officer for the Montecito Fire Protection District.
They observed smoke and flames coming from two manhole covers and another opening under a bridge along Via Real, between Bailard Avenue and Casitas Pass Road.
“The storm drain where the fire occurred is lined with a thick plastic material, which caused the fire to continue burning with intensity for several hours,” Favuzzi said Sunday.
Due to firefighting efforts and safety concerns, Highway 101 northbound was shut down at approximately 6:30 p.m, and was reopened at about 9:20 p.m., although Via Real remained closed.
Carpinteria-Summerland firefighters were assisted on the incident by crews from Montecito, the city of Santa Barbara, and Ventura County. Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies and CHP officers also responded to the scene to assist with traffic control.
At approximately 1:30 a.m. Sunday, construction workers reported seeing smoke coming from the storm drain system in the same area, Favuzzi said.
The northbound freeway lanes were shut down again at about 2:30 a.m., and a special engine from Montecito equipped with a compressed air foam system was dispatched to the scene.
“Firefighters sprayed the foam into the storm drain to eliminate the fire’s oxygen source and successfully extinguish it,” Favuzzi said.
Some of the foam subsequently entered Carpinteria Creek, but it was determined that it was an allowable discharge under state regulations, she added.
Highway 101 was reopened at about 5 a.m., but the 5700 block of Via Real in that area remained shut down on Sunday.
“Both fires are currently being investigated by Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District.,” Favuzzi said, adding that investigators have ruled out a natural gas line or a sewer line.
— Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.