A heavy marine layer and calm winds overnight helped crews fighting the Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base boost containment to 50 percent on Wednesday.
The fire is now at 12,353 acres, according to a VAFB news release, with 1,056 firefighters working the blaze.
Crews focused Wednesday on shoring up containment lines along base boundaries and around key launch facilities ahead of a weather forecast that is calling for increased winds of up to 30 mph later this week.
Meanwhile, with limited information about the fire’s advancing flames, owners of horses stabled on nearby land rallied to ensure the equines were safe, with one member climbing a ridge to monitor the proximity.
More than 100 horses typically are housed at La Salle Stables in a canyon next to Vandenberg, but far fewer remained Tuesday because of voluntary evacuations.
While conditions appeared to be improving, trucks hitched to trailers still remained at the ready on Tuesday.
Since the fire started Saturday evening, sending up huge clouds of smoke, owners have been frustrated at the lack of information about the fire’s progress and other specific details typically provided from civilian firefighting authorities.
Horses were moved Sunday and Monday as evacuation warnings were issued for La Salle and Miguelito canyons because of the fire’s extreme behavior.
“I think the only hard issue this time around was not very much communication from Vandenberg,” said Sydney Greer, a horse owner at La Salle Stables.
With sparse official information, horse owners took matters into their own hands. John Stamper has spent hours at the site, occasionally driving to the top of the ridge to assess how close flames were to stables and pastures.
“The majority of our communication is coming from him — he’s been up on the ridge,” Adelia Emerson said. “Staying here morning, day and night.”
“He’s our hero here,” Greer said of Stamper.
“I think the only hard issue this time around was not very much communication from Vandenberg.
Sydney Greer, a horse owner at La Salle Stables
With today’s technology, the information appears to be in a funnel effect, she added.
“It’s just not getting disseminated where it needs to be for people involved in the crisis,” Greer said.
The horses that have left La Salle were relocated to property of friends and acquaintances around the Lompoc and Santa Ynez valleys.
Firefighters tried to convince Stamper to leave the site Monday night.
“I stayed in my horse trailer last night here just to make sure I could keep an eye on it and go up there when I need to, just to make sure that these the horses that were left stayed safe,” Stamper said.
Horse owners showed their appreciation to the firefighters by bringing crews snacks.
“Everybody came together here,” Greer said. “It was really great see that.”
On Tuesday, with less smoke enveloping the area, fire engines from Ventura County agencies sat nearby.
Firefighter Chad Carroll from Oxnard Fire Department paused to pet the horses coming to the fence to greet him.
“It’s fun having the horses here,” Carroll said.
Evacuation warnings for La Salle Canyon and Miguelito Canyon should be lifted in the next few days, said Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
Vandenberg officials are requiring that most of the information about the incident come from their staff. But a lieutenant said information must go through several levels of approval before public affairs can release details.
On Saturday, they waited five hours before issuing the first update about the incident, and acreage numbers have been hours behind updates given through fire sources.
“Cooler weather aided fire crews with building containment lines along the eastern edge of the fire today. The fire remained active on the northern portions, however, crews were able to engage the front line of the blaze directly and successfully established several containment lines along that front,” Vandenberg officials said.
Crews also established fire breaks along the east and west boundaries Tuesday, with Wednesday’s goal being working to strengthen those areas to further protect the base’s critical launch complexes and prevent the fire from spreading off base property.
“Been granted access to our pad for a least the next several hours,” Bruno said.
Five hours later he added, “Team making the most of access,” explaining they installed a backup generator and more support equipment.
When the Atlas V rocket’s departure was delayed Sunday morning, officials said the next attempt would not occur before Sept. 26, but depended on Western Range availability.
Since South Base must be evacuated because of the safety reasons during the launch, a new departure date is pending firefighting progress.