Whittier Fire burns 10,823 acres and is just 5 percent contained, threatens western Goleta

Flames from the Whittier Fire near Lake Cachuma burn through a ranch on the south side of Highway 154.
Flames from the Whittier Fire near Lake Cachuma burn through a ranch on the south side of Highway 154. Noozhawk.com

Update Monday, 8 a.m.

The Whittier Fire has burned 10,823 acres, and containment is still at 5 percent.

Original story

Firefighters were settling in Sunday evening for what figures to be a lengthy battle to tame the Whittier Fire, which continued to burn largely out of control in the mountains between Lake Cachuma and Goleta.

Crews were being hampered by high temperatures, rugged terrain and thinly-stretched resources in their efforts to stop the blaze, which had blackened some 7,800 acres since it broke out Saturday.

Containment remained at 5 percent Sunday afternoon.

The wildfire started along Highway 154 near Lake Cachuma on Saturday.

It’s the third-largest wildfire burning in California.

A U.S. Forest Service firefighter surveys flames as the Whittier Fire burns along Highway 154 near Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County on Saturday, July 8, 2017.

“The biggest challenge right now is the terrain, and getting the crews in there,” said Mark von Tillow, Los Padres Santa Barbara Ranger District division chief for the U.S. Forest Service, which was taking over Sunday evening as incident commander. “We don’t have a lot of natural barriers. We’ve got structures, ranches in the way that we need to protect.

“And then competing with the other fires in the state to get the resources is going to be our biggest challenge.

Von Tillow said it could easily take a couple weeks to fully contain the fire.

On the fire lines Sunday afternoon, temperatures remained in the 90s, but the winds were relatively calm.

The west flank of the fire seemed to be transitioning toward a mop-up phase, with helicopters, hand crews and brush trucks likely spending several days dousing hot spots.

On the eastern flank, flames continued moving down a canyon in the direction of Rancho San Marcos Golf Course, but were not making any big runs.

On the south flank along the ridgetop, flames were threatening Santa Ynez Peak, home to several antennas and broadcast facilities.

Firefighters were making heavy use of retardant drops by helicopters and air tankers, including the mammoth DC-10s. Other helicopters were dousing flames with water, while bulldozers and firefighters on foot were scraping out containment lines.

Fire officials have requested 20 additional hand crews to help with the grueling task of building containment lines through the steep terrain.

A key area of concern on the fire is the southern flank, where Saturday night flames topped the ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains and began presenting a threat to populated areas in western Goleta. In the populated residential areas of western Goleta, 10 strike teams of five engines each have been deployed to provide structure protection, he said.

Flames were clearly visible from western Goleta above Tecolote, Eagle and Las Varas canyons.

According to local PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey, monsoonal moisture is moving into Santa Barbara County, with scattered showers near the fire area. Thunderstorms could develop.

Just before 10 p.m. Saturday, an evacuation warning was issued for the area north of Highway 101, from Winchester Canyon Road west to Las Varas Canyon. Residents in the area were encouraged to prepare for possible evacuation.

And shortly before midnight, the residents at the upper end of Farren Road were ordered to evacuate.

The blaze started about 1:40 p.m. Saturday near Camp Whittier, at 2400 Highway 154, and may have been sparked by a car fire, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Whittier Fire map
Map of the Alamo Fire as of 7 a.m., when the fire was 7,800 acres and 5 percent contained. Mile Eliason Santa Barbara County Fire Department

At 7,800 acres, the Whittier Fire is the third-largest fire burning in California as of Sunday morning, according to Cal Fire.

Several areas, including the Highway 154 corridor, remained under evacuation orders, while others such as some areas of Goleta below the fire, had evacuation warnings in effect.

Some 3,500 people were evacuated due to the fire as of Sunday afternoon, according to Sheriff Bill Brown.

Evacuations centers have been established at San Marcos High School near Goleta and at Santa Ynez School.

Highway 154 is expected to remain closed for several days from Paradise Road to Highway 246.

Whittier Fire along Highway 154 near Lake Cachuma

Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for:

▪  Highway 154 from Armour Ranch Road on the west to Paradise Road on the east.

▪  West Camino Cielo from the Winchester Gun Club east to Highway 154.

▪  Kinevan Road.

▪  Camp Whittier, Circle V Ranch Camp and the Lake Cachuma campground.

▪  Upper end of Farren Road in Goleta.

Evacuation warnings have been issued for:

A warning means residents should be gathering pets, important documents and irreplaceable items and be prepared to leave, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. Large animals should be evacuated at this time.

▪  Las Varas Canyon east to Winchester Canyon.

▪  Highway 101 North to West Camino Cielo.

▪  Paradise Road from Highway 154 to the first river crossing.

Evacuation centers are at San Marcos High School, at 4750 Hollister Ave. in Santa Barbara, and at Santa Ynez Elementary School at 3325 Pine St. in Santa Ynez.

Where to take your animals:

Small animals that owners can evacuate were being accepted at the Santa Barbara Humane Society at 5399 Overpass Road in Santa Barbara, and people with questions or in need of assistance evacuating large animals, including horses, can call the hotline at 805-681-4332.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at tbolton@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.