Highway 166 reopened Monday afternoon but motorists were urged to use caution due to the firefighting activity related to the 875-plus-acre Front Fire burning 30 miles east of Santa Maria.
The highway’s reopening came nearly 24 hours after crews first responded to a vegetation fire near Highway 166 at Rock Front Ranch.
It had burned a reported 875 acres as of Monday afternoon, an estimate that dropped after better mapping, according to officials from the Los Padres National Forest, which is leading the response. Containment was estimated at 30 percent by 4:45 p.m., and about 600 people were assigned to the fire, Los Padres officials said.
As a precaution Monday, Front Fire commanders closed the Sierra Madre Road area and requested campers and hunters leave in case flames crossed Highway 166.
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The weather assisted the firefighting effort overnight, as a strong marine layer’s influence slowed the spread of the blaze, Los Padres officials said.On Monday, firefighters expected to face high temperatures, low relative humidity and light winds, they said.
Along with the normal challenges of rough terrain and hot weather, Front Fire crews were struggling with communications since the area has long been known as problematic for radio and cellphone service, Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen said. Instead, commanders were using satellite phones to assist with communication.
Air tankers and other aircraft responded in force to the blaze Sunday and on Monday, and commanders hoped to keep the aerial attack going as long as another blaze did not start and divert the resources.Crews from many additional agencies have responded to the Front Fire, including the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Cal Fire and Santa Maria City Fire Department.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, according to Forest Service representatives.
The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District advised people near the Front Fire to check air quality conditions and protect their health.