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Alamo Fire explodes to 19,000 acres, more than triples in size with little containment

Alamo Fire's path of destruction along Highway 166

A look at the destructive aftermath of the Alamo Fire, which burned along Highway 166 on Saturday, July 8, 2017. The fire had grown to 19,000 acres as of 5 p.m. Saturday and was still raging in a remote area of Santa Barbara County.
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A look at the destructive aftermath of the Alamo Fire, which burned along Highway 166 on Saturday, July 8, 2017. The fire had grown to 19,000 acres as of 5 p.m. Saturday and was still raging in a remote area of Santa Barbara County.

Alamo Fire Day 4 updates can be found here: http://tribne.ws/2uZ1ChA

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The Alamo Fire exploded to 19,000 acres with minimal containment Saturday, placing 200 homes in jeopardy in the Tepusquet Canyon area east of Santa Maria.

More than 1,000 firefighters from agencies across California, as well as a contingent of state penitentiary inmates, were fighting the fire, which nearly doubled in size overnight to 6,000 acres Saturday morning before 100-degree temperatures and low humidity aided in sending the blaze ripping through the remote, densely vegetated stretch of steep canyon terrain Saturday afternoon.

The blaze was growing “at an extreme rate of spread,” Cal Fire San Luis Obispo County spokesman Chris Elms said.

Mandatory evacuations issued for Blazing Saddle Drive, White Rock Lane and Buckhorn Ridge, Tepusquet, Colson Canyon, Pine Canyon and Santa Maria Mesa roads remained in place Saturday evening. Highway 166 was closed to public traffic.

“This is very, very steep, rugged mountain terrain,” said Ryan Diguilio, a Santa Barbara City Fire Department investigator.

The Alamo Fire burning east of Santa Maria charred 6,000 acres as of Saturday morning. Here are scenes from the fire zone Friday afternoon into the night.

The rugged terrain has limited firefighters’ ability to respond on the ground.

“Right now, we’re relying a lot on aircraft,” said Maj. Kirk Sturm, of the California Military Department.

Air crews enlisted in the fight include five helicopters dropping water and four fixed-wing aircraft dropping fire retardant.

Sturm said that four firefighters sustained minor injuries as of Saturday afternoon and all were “patched up and returned to work.”

The incident command center at the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo grounds was run jointly by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and Cal Fire SLO on Saturday. Statewide Cal Fire crews are expected to assume command Sunday.

“All incidents start local,” Sturm said. “As it grows, there’s a hand-off.”

An American Red Cross evacuation center was set up at the Minami Community Center, 600 W. Enos Drive in Santa Maria. Officials said six evacuees utilized the shelter Friday night.

Animals, however, are not allowed at the shelter. For assistance with animals, residents are asked to call Santa Barbara County Animal Services at 805-681-4332 before bringing any pets to a shelter. Large animals can be taken to the Elks Rodeo grounds at 4040 Highway 1 in Santa Maria. Six large animals were received there Friday, according to the release.

For evacuation assistance, contact the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office at 805-683-2724.

Watch an air tanker drop fire retardant drop on the Alamo Fire on Saturday, July 8, 2017, during what Cal Fire SLO called "extreme fire behavior." This footage was taken in the Blazing Saddles area.

The fire has also prompted air quality advisories for northern Santa Barbara County for the weekend as smoke blows into the Santa Maria area and other locations. The smoke is also affecting air quality in southern San Luis Obispo County.

The Santa Barbara County public health department recommends that everyone — especially those with heart or lung disease, older adults and children — limit time spent outdoors when high concentrations of smoke and particles are in the air. It also recommends keeping windows and doors closed and running the air conditioner with the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler

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