Flames from the Whittier Fire continued to chew through mountain-side chaparral Friday night, putting on a menacing light show in the Santa Ynez Mountains as sundowner winds moved in.
The fire had burned 17,364 acres and was 35 percent contained as of 8:40 a.m. Saturday, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
Just about 12 hours earlier, the fire was about 13,000 acres and was at 52 percent containment.
More than 1,600 firefighters are on scene to fight the blaze that has closed Highway 154 until further notice from Highway 246 to Foothill/Cathedral Oaks. The fire also led to mandatory evacuations for the following areas:
▪ All of Winchester Canyon Road excluding the community of Wagon Wheel, Langlo Ranch Road and Winchester Commons west to El Capitan Ranch Road.
▪ Calle Real north to West Camino Cielo from Winchester Canyon Road on the east to El Capitan Ranch Road on the west.
▪ Paradise Road.
▪ Rosario Park and all of Stagecoach Road.
▪ Farren Road and Las Varas Canyon Road.
The evacuation order also extends to all campgrounds on Highway 154.
Law enforcement will be patrolling the evacuation areas, according to a statement from Santa Barbara County.
Firefighters anticipate little change in weather Saturday, while expected windy conditions have lead to an air-quality warning for all of Santa Barbara County for the weekend.
On Friday night, the southwest flank of the blaze, burning in the upper reaches of El Capitán, Gato and Las Varas canyons, was particularly active as mild sundowner winds propelled the flames down the mountainside into steep terrain that had not burned for decades.
Firefighters were conducting some “burn-out” operations in that area Friday, aimed at stopping the fire’s progress, according to Leslie Auriemmo, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.
The result was huge swaths of smoke extending for miles out into the ocean.
The previous two nights, the marine layer moved in during the early morning hours, causing fire activity to diminish. But that was not expected Friday or Saturday night, Auriemmo said. The forecast for both Friday and Saturday night was calling for north winds of 10-20 mph, with gusts to 35 mph.
Noozhawk.com contributed to this report.