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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 12th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 19 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 19

Whittier Fire burns more than 10,000 acres near Lake Cachuma


The Whittier Fire ignited on July 8 near Highway 154 at Cachuma Lake, and in just three days it had blazed through more than 10,000 acres of Santa Ynez Mountainside, destroying eight residences and 12 outbuildings, according to a July 11 update from agencies responding to the fire.

In an update made to the county’s fire incident news line on July 11, Santa Barbara County Fire Department Capt. Dave Zaniboni explained that the fire hadn’t expanded significantly during the previous evening.

A squad car was lost during evacuation efforts made in response to the Whittier Fire, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover said, but there have been no reported injuries or fatalities as of July 11.

“Fire activity was very minimal during the evening,” Zaniboni said. “The weather was very cooperative with high humidity, low temperatures, and relatively low winds on it.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to the update, and 842 personnel had the fire 25 percent contained at the time. Agencies responding to the fire include the county Fire Department and Sheriff’s Office, along with Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.

The county lifted an evacuation order to a warning for Farren Road, but mandatory evacuations—including Armour Ranch, Paradise Road, and Kinevan Road—remained in effect.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue volunteers are in charge of evacuations, Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover told the Sun, and follow-up with properties or residences that have received phone notifications.

“The Sheriff’s Office helps facilitate those evacuations and also goes door to door to make sure that everyone has indeed left, that they’re safe, and if they need help leaving,” Hoover said. “That’s where Search and Rescue plays a critical role with coming in and helping them make it to all of those residences, and many of them are remote and it’s summertime, so people are on vacation, but they have to make sure that no one is left unaccounted for.”

Evacuations occurred immediately for Camp Whittier, Lake Cachuma Campground, The Outdoor School at Rancho Alegre, Live Oak Campground, Cachuma Village, and Circle V Ranch (more on page 9), according to a release from the Sheriff’s Office. A squad car was lost to the blaze, Hoover said, but there were no reported injuries or fatalities as of the Sun’s July 11 press time.

The fire spread quickly, due to the large volume of dead trees and dry grass on either side of Highway 154. According to the multi-agency report, the “slope that the fire is primarily burning on is comprised of oak trees and brush that has not burned since the Refugio Fire in 1955.” The trees and plant life have been stressed over the repeated years of drought as well, the report said.

The American Red Cross had an evacuation shelter available to residents at San Marcos High School, 4750 Hollister Ave., Goleta, the report said.

Also, Santa Barbara County Animal Services provided animal evacuation information and assistance at the hotline number 681-4332. The Santa Barbara Humane Society also assisted evacuees with small animals.

The report also said that firefighters were working to protect commercial and residential structures, Southern California Edison distribution lines, communications infrastructure, and cultural archeological sites.

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department re-issued an air quality warning on July 10 due to the combined smoke and ash from both the Whittier and Alamo fires.

“Everyone, especially people with heart or lunge disease (including asthma), older adults, and children, should limit time spent outdoors and avoid outdoor exercise when high concentrations of smoke and particles are in the air,” the warning stated, later saying that locals should limit time outdoors and to “avoid skin contact with ash, and no one with heart or lung conditions should handle ash cleanup.”

The Whittier Fire has proved difficult to contain due to the mountainous landscape where it’s occurring. Steep ridges, canyons, and slopes are challenging for fire crews to navigate.

Retardant-dropping tanker planes and helicopters that fill up at the Cachuma Lake Reservoir continued to provide support from the sky, Capt. Zaniboni said on the county’s news line on July 11.

“Today, the strategy is to get in there and go direct on the fire line wherever possible,” he said, “and use the water-dropping helicopters to take out any heat from the areas that are inaccessible from ground crews.”

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