The Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base has topped 10,000 acres, but crews have made progress in fighting the blaze that threatened space launch complexes and support equipment, with containment reported at 18 percent, officials said Tuesday.
As of Tuesday morning, the Canyon Fire had burned 10,542 acres of mostly Air Force property. More than 600 firefighters were fighting the blaze, which started late Saturday afternoon on South Base.
Smoke from the Canyon Fire has traveled north into San Luis Obispo County, with people reporting ash on their cars in Atascadero. But shifting winds should prevent a recurrence of the thick layer of low smoke that choked the North County on Monday.
In Santa Barbara County, the air quality watch has been upgraded to an air quality warning, which urges residents to use extra caution to protect their health, according to the county Public Health Department and Air Pollution Control District.
As was obvious to local residents who were watching gigantic smoke plumes rise from the remote location and standing ready to evacuate livestock, Vandenberg officials said the fire “was very active” Monday, growing by 6,000 acres.
Evacuation warnings have been in place for Miguelito and La Salle canyons near Vandenberg. To minimize traffic congestion and to facilitate fire response, roadblocks remain on Ocean Avenue/Highway 246 at Union Sugar Avenue.
“Most of the growth was to the west and the north. However, fire teams made strong progress along the south and east portions of the fire,” Vandenberg officials said in a statement.
“Despite the progress made yesterday, the fire remains significant and unpredictable. For safety reasons and to prevent any interference with the fire response, South Base access continues to be limited to mission-essential personnel,” Vandenberg representatives said.
That section of the base houses several space launch complexes used for launching rockets that carry critical national security and science satellites, making the Canyon Fire a top priority in the state, Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said Monday.
“This is a high-priority fire right now just because of the assets that are on this base,” he said Monday.
Crews are dealing with active fire behavior that includes uphill runs, wind-driven runs and short-range spotting. Hot weather also hampered firefighting efforts, with the normal marine layer not present.
“It’s been interesting weather the last couple of days,” Zaniboni said.
According to one federal source, full containment is not expected until Sept. 30.
Tuesday’s firefighting efforts focused on building direct and indirect containment lines.
“Fire managers are utilizing crews with hand tools and bulldozers to construct containment lines on the base property.”
Despite the progress made yesterday, the fire remains significant and unpredictable.
Vandenberg Air Force Base representatives
While Vandenberg officials say there are no details on damaged buildings, there were reports of at least some superficial damage to a building on Tranquillion Peak.
Firefighting costs reportedly have reached $1.5 million so far.
“Smoke from the Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base is currently causing air quality to be unhealthy for sensitive groups in Lompoc,” authorities said. “Everyone in that area should limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors, and people with heart or lung disease, children, and older adults should limit time outdoors and be especially careful.
“Other areas of Santa Barbara County are currently experiencing somewhat elevated levels of particles. Because winds and weather conditions can change, air quality in a range of areas of the county may be affected by the fire. Communities may also experience falling ash.”
If high concentrations of smoke and ash are present, people should use common sense to protect their health by limiting time spent outdoors and avoiding outdoor exercise. If falling ash is spotted, avoid activities, such as using leaf blowers, that will stir particles into the air. Anyone with symptoms that may be related to exposure to smoke and soot should contact a health care provider.
Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations and nausea or unurual fatigue or lightheadedness.