Highway 101 closed near Gaviota as wind-whipped fire forces evacuations

Follow the latest updates on this developing story here »» Highway 101 open after El Capitán Canyon fire burns 420 acres, forces campground evacuations

Firefighters responded Thursday afternoon to a vegetation fire burning in the area of El Capitan Canyon along the Gaviota Coast that forced evacuations and is threatening structures.

The fire also shut down southbound and northbound traffic on Highway 101 at Las Varas and Refugio, according to CHP.

CHP says it does not know how long the highway will be closed in that area.

Crews from Santa Barbara County and the U.S Forest Service were dispatched shortly after 4:30 p.m. to a blaze near El Capitan State Beach, which was being prepared for evacuations along with El Capitan Canyon on the north side of the highway, according to emergency radio traffic.

The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office specified evacuations are in the coastal area between Dos Pueblos Canyon and Gaviota.

Camping reservations at El Capitan are also canceled until further notice, California State Parks tweeted Thursday afternoon, and Amtrak service has been stopped.

The first firefighters on scene reported the fire, which is near the Ocean Meadows RV campground, was being fanned by gusty winds in the area.

At about 5:30 p.m., the blaze, dubbed the Real Fire, remained on the north side of the highway, according to emergency radio traffic, but officials expected it to cross Highway 101.

As of 6 p.m. the fire is approximately 50 acres with no containment, according to Santa Barbara County Fire.

Structures were threatened in El Capitan Canyon, at the state beach, and at the Ocean Meadows RV Park. There was not report of any damaged or destroyed.

Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were attacking the blaze from the air with retardant and water drops, while some 20 engines along with bulldozers and handcrews, were fighting it from the ground, Capt. Daniel Bertucelli of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said.

Additional details were not immediately available.

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.