Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fire crews conduct burn operations along ridge


As the blaze scorching hillsides above Goleta entered its second week, fire crews pulled off a series of successful burnout operations along West Camino Cielo to prevent flames from creeping over the ridgeline.
“You see a lot of black here,” Capt. Iskow said, drawing a line along the northern perimeter of a fire map during a news briefing Tuesday afternoon. “A lot of that happened last night.”

Armed with drip torches and backed by water tenders, Capt. Iskow said fire crews lit vegetation along the roadway, sending flames down toward the Gap Fire’s northern edge to rob it of fuel.
“[There is] still danger in that,” he said, “but a lot less when we’re controlling it.”
Authorities said burn operations will continue as weather conditions permit.
Although fire officials had hoped to circle thick black line around the northeast corner to tie in with the relatively inactive eastern and southern flanks, Capt. Iskow said a small flare-up kept crews busy in that area.
With successful burn operations improving the northern perimeter, however, authorities lifted mandatory evacuations for Trout Club, Kinevan Road, the Haney Tract and West Camino Cielo to Windermere Ranch, reducing those areas to warning status.
Areas west of Windermere Ranch along West Camino Cielo remain under an evacuation order, officials said, where only a few homes are affected. Painted Cave and regions west of Winchester Canyon to Dos Pueblos Canyon are under an evacuation warning.
While the southern edge remains contained and is growing cooler by the day, Capt. Iskow said residents should expect to see smoke and activity from the interior portions of the fire.
“At night, they’re still going to see embers blow,” he said. “That’s going to go on for a while.”
Areas to the west and northwest remain the most active portion of the blaze with flames spreading slowly through steep terrain.
The fire swelled to 9,785 acres by Tuesday evening, just a 75-acre increase in the past 12 hours. Joining 1,128 fire personnel were five air tankers and nine helicopters.
Authorities said containment grew from 50 to 55 percent during the day.
Hotshot crews stayed busy building line in extremely rugged territory near Eagle Canyon, officials said, keeping flames from reaching a smattering of homes in that area.
A group of bulldozers continued building a wide firebreak to the northwest, hoping to head off flames as they burn into the Condor Peak region. It’s not a great opportunity, Capt. Iskow said, but it’s the best option between the fire and Refugio Road.
“We’re just planning ahead as far as we can,” he said.
He also addressed concerns about the air attack, namely suggestions that not enough is being done to quell flames from above.
Along the northern front, tankers dropped 135,000 gallons of fire retardant, he said, including drops by a modified DC-10 airliner. Helicopters have dumped nearly 50,000 gallons of water.
“We have a lot of retardant and water being dropped on this fire by a lot of aircraft,” Capt. Iskow said.
Due to a portable retardant camp recently established near Cathedral Oaks and Glen Annie roads, he said residents should expect to see plenty of activity as aircraft reload.
Cindy Chojnacky, a district ranger with the Los Padres National Forest, said she visited firebreaks along West Camino Cielo and described an impressive air show by tankers and the DC-10 airliner, which showered her ranger vehicle with pink splatters.
The ranger also announced a new set of fire restrictions throughout the Los Padres National Forest will go into effect this Friday, including limitations on campfires. Wood and charcoal fires will be outlawed in many areas, she said, along with smoking and recreational target shooting. The regulations will remain in place for the duration of the fire season.
Reiterating a similar message from previous days, Southern California Edison officials warned local residents that flames continue to burn near power lines and outages are likely, particularly in northern Santa Barbara, Goleta, eastern Goleta Valley and Gaviota.
“It’s strictly up to the fire and Mother Nature,” SCE spokeswoman Jane Brown said. “It’s a moment-to-moment thing. It could happen at any time.”
An outage hit areas of the South Coast on Tuesday morning without warning, she said, cutting power from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. She urged the public to prepare to be without power and continue to conserve electricity as much as possible.
Brown also addressed questions about an emergency power-generation plant on Hollister Avenue, explaining that the “peaker” facility had been built in the 70s and is not owned by Southern California Edison.
The facility is currently helping to provide electricity during outages, she said, but as an older plant, it isn’t operating at capacity. Brown said power officials plan to speak with local leaders about potentially building several new “peaker” facilities locally for future emergencies.

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