Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Gap Fire rages in hills above Goleta

BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

Steady sundowner winds pushed the Gap Fire through heavy chaparral in the hills above Goleta on Wednesday afternoon, scorching at least 630 acres and threatening 200 homes.
In addition to residences, power lines running along the base of the mountainside are also at risk, authorities said.
Those power lines played a role in a series of power outages that blanketed the South Coast on Wednesday evening starting around 7:15 p.m. Fire spokesman John Ahlman ventured a guess that heavy smoke from the fire compromised the lines.

“If there is too much smoke around them, it can take them out of service,” he said.
Southern California Edison officials confirmed that as the cause, adding that smoke had interrupted service to at least 150,000 customers.
Authorities had no estimate as to when power would be fully restored, but workers scrambled to switch customers to different circuits, bringing the southern portion of Santa Barbara and Carpinteria back online by 8 p.m.
Power officials said the fire, still raging out of control into the evening, could dictate when electricity to other areas will be returned.
During a news conference held early Wednesday afternoon, authorities lamented meager firefighting resources due to numerous wildfires burning throughout the state.
“California is stretched thin,” County Fire Chief John Scherrei said. “We don’t know how long we can hold onto what we have.”
Approximately 350 firefighters battled the fire with more en route, fire officials said. Many have been fighting flames burning in other regions for at least two weeks.
“We need some fresh forces,” Chief Scherrei said.
Due to broken terrain — ranging from steep, boulder-laden mountainsides to meadows to vegetation-chocked drainages — an attack from above took on added significance as four water-dropping helicopters and four air tankers aided hand crews on the ground.
Several bulldozers also cut large swaths through the brush, but uneven terrain kept their operation at a minimum.
Officials estimated containment of the Gap Fire at just 5 percent.
Sundowner winds remained the primary concern for fire officials, pushing the fire laterally along the ridge and whipping up flames from 10 to 30 feet.
Even as Chief Scherrei spoke during the press conference, held at a fire staging area at Dos Pueblos High School, winds stirred up flames and sent a massive billow of dark orange smoke into the air above Goleta.
“It’s a game of us against nature, us against the wind,” Chief Scherrei said.
Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation for 45 residents of a scattering of ranch homes within a mile and a half of the fire in Glen Annie Canyon and La Patera Canyon, where bits of white ash fell steadily throughout the afternoon.
Those living in areas north of Cathedral Oaks Road between Glen Annie Canyon and Fairview Avenue, approximately 300 residents, faced an evacuation warning.
Authorities urged all residents in the area to assess their emergency plans and take precautionary steps to prepare for potential evacuation.
“We’re all at risk,” Goleta Mayor Michael Bennett said.
The fire, sparked just off West Camino Cielo about half a mile from the Winchester Gun Club, is burning in dry brush untouched by flames since the Refugio Fire in 1955.
Temperatures along the front lines neared 90 degrees on Wednesday, Chief Scherrei said, but humidity remained relatively high.
“Things could be worse at this moment,” he said.
Due to the blaze’s proximity to homes, Chief Scherrei said state fire officials are considering it a high priority.
Even so, he made a personal plea to fellow fire chiefs in neighboring Ventura and Los Angeles counties, along with the city of Los Angeles. They responded by sending any strike teams they could spare — leaving stations to the south with minimal staff.
“We owe a great debt of gratitude to them,” County Supervisor Salud Carbajal said.
With resources growing scarce, Chief Scherrei expressed concern about the approaching Fourth of July weekend, when fireworks-related incidents keep firefighters on their toes, even without an incident such as the Gap Fire to worry about.
By Tuesday evening, emergency workers had established an evacuation center at San Marcos High School, offering food, blankets, cots and support to those affected by the fire.
Santa Barbara Red Cross CEO Janet Stanley said only one person had taken advantage of the shelter early Wednesday afternoon, but added that many residents had expressed interest.
“Lots of people have called in this morning,” she said.
Those using the shelter can keep small pets nearby, Stanley added, in a special area on the tennis courts. Assistance with evacuating large animals is available by calling 681-4332. For ore information on Red Cross services, call 687-1331.
During the news conference, Supervisor Janet Wolf delivered a special message to children who might be frightened by the proximity of flames or the towering column of smoke.
“We will do everything we can to ensure your safety,” she said.
Along that theme, health officials urged children and older adults, as well as those with heart or lung disease, to limit time outdoors in areas affected by smoke from the fire, issuing a precautionary air quality advisory.
Children enrolled in summer school at Dos Pueblos High School had classes cancelled through Thursday as fire officials used the campus as a staging area and incident command center.
County Fire Capt. Eli Iskow said control of the fire transitioned to a California incident command team Wednesday evening and authorities had planned to relocate the command center to an undetermined location.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

data inaccurate... sundowner winds like Santa Ana's, blow off shore and down canyon's and passes. This fire was chasing fuel down the canyons and being held back by the winds. We had offshore breezes that night that kept the fire pushed back, thank god. If they had been sundowner Santa Ana's, Goleta would have been up in flames ie. the firestorm that took place durring the painted cave fire. Do your research.

front line resident

SunnySBBarbara said...

I was watching the TV news and they stated that the sundowner winds were contributing to the fire and even showed a map with two large arrows showing the path of the winds, down the canyons, which was contributing to the fire. There also may have been offshore winds to help slow the fire's progress, but it doesn't also mean there weren't sundowners occurring. I think the Daily Sound did a great job on their coverage, actually! Thanks, D.S. staff!