Federal investigators determined the fast-moving Cave Fire was human-caused, Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen said Wednesday.
The wind-whipped Cave Fire started around 4:15 p.m. one year ago, on Nov. 25, 2019, and was first reported along East Camino Cielo Road near Painted Cave Road, which is on the ridgeline east of Highway 154.
“Investigators believe the wildfire was human-caused after ruling out weather events such as lightning or equipment failure as the source of ignition,” Madsen told Noozhawk.
He said federal law enforcement officials hope their investigation uncovers whether the blaze was caused by arson, and added that there are no suspects at this time.
The Cave Fire burned 3,126 acres by the time it was fully contained, on Dec. 14, and county officials issued evacuation orders when winds sent the blaze toward populated areas along the Highway 154 corridor.
No injuries were reported in the fire, and no structures were destroyed other than a few outbuildings, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
Caltrans closed down Highway 154 for several days while crews repaired burned guardrails.
Last winter, Flood Control, Caltrans and U.S. Forest Service officials were concerned about potential flooding and debris flows because of the burned watershed, but there were no major problems reported after winter rainstorms.
The upcoming winter could bring up some of the same concerns listed in the post-fire BAER report: intense rainstorms could cause flooding in neighborhoods below the Cave Fire burn area, especially along San Antonio Creek.
Causes of Other Recent Wildfires
The 2016 Sherpa Fire and 2017 Whittier Fire were also human-caused, according to investigators, and were determined to be accidents.
A Rancho La Scherpa retreat center resident was burning a log in an indoor fireplace and, when it filled the cabin with smoke, carried the log outside to douse it with water. Embers fell to the ground and ignited the vegetation. Flames quickly spread and started the 7,474-acre Sherpa Fire, according to the County Fire Department.
A juvenile driving a vehicle in tall grasses on the hillside above Camp Whittier, near Highway 154, accidentally started the 18,430-acre Whittier Fire, the U.S. Forest Service determined.
Southern California Edison equipment caused several other recent wildfires in Santa Barbara County, according to fire investigators, including the 2018 Holiday Fire near Goleta and the massive 2017 Thomas Fire.
Dozens of lawsuits name SCE as a defendant in cases related to the 281,350-acre Thomas Fire and the deadly, destructive Jan. 9, 2018, Montecito debris flows.