Monday, July 28, 2008

Authorities call containment on Gap Fire


After nearly a month of firefighting efforts in the foothills above Goleta that successfully held off flames even as they came perilously close to homes, fire officials declared the Gap Fire fully contained Monday afternoon.
“We had an infrared flight yesterday and it didn’t turn up any hot spots or smoke,” said Cindy Chojnacky, a district ranger with the Los Padres National Forest. “…It’s good news for all of us.”

Despite getting a solid handle on the fire weeks ago, authorities remained reticent to call it fully contained due to a half-mile strip of rugged terrain to the northwest of the fire’s perimeter.
With thick brush choking the steep, inaccessible hillsides, fire officials did not feel comfortable sending firefighters into the area to build containment lines, County Fire Capt. Eli Iskow said.
Flames had continued to smolder on the hillside below, he explained, cutting off any chance of a quick escape firefighters would need should the fire make a run up the hill.
“We put some water on it and watched it closely,” he said.
That stretch of territory kept the Gap Fire at 97 percent containment for the past several weeks as a series of hot spots continued to smolder. But with a clear infrared flight behind them, officials seemed confident in declaring full containment.
“The chances of it escaping are slim to none,” Capt. Iskow said.
Although the fire has been fully contained, officials noted that a full control date — demarcating when flames are fully extinguished — has yet to be estimated. Smoke from interior areas may still be visible.
Only a handful of personnel had remained on the fire in recent days, Chojnacky said, including a regular fire crew of approximately 20 members and several forest service staff.
Flames first started spreading through the slopes of the front country on July 1 near the Lizard’s Mouth area on West Camino Cielo. They eventually spread down the mountainside, coming within feet of some homes and scorching 9,443 acres.
Although four outbuildings were destroyed, authorities said no homes were lost.
Chojnacky had nothing new to report about the investigation into the cause of the fire. Authorities have deemed it human-caused but remained tight-lipped about any details.
With flames fully contained, Chojnacky said much of the work now is focused on rehabilitation of the large gashes cut by bulldozers and fire crews.
Forest workers are also working hard to install temporary fencing to keep people off the containment lines, which offer a great temptation to off-road vehicle users, she said.
Authorities have agreed to a closure of West Camino Cielo from the Winchester Gun Club to Broadcast Peak to prevent off-roaders from hitting the slopes — a closure Chojnacky expects to last through the winter.
Members of a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team are continuing to assess the forest areas scorched by the Gap Fire and are expected to wrap up a report and suggest treatments to minimize adverse impacts before August 1.

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