UPDATE: Cal Fire Chief Rob Lewin told the Board of Supervisors this morning that the Calf Fire east of Santa Margarita is 30 percent contained and officials are still weighing the best time to allow residents of the 60 homes that were evacuated to return to their dwellings safely.
Lewin called the evacuation process "quite successful" and he and supervisor chairman Jim Patterson praised Red Cross and others who have been helping.
Lewin said cool weather kept the fire from becoming "much worse." He said the cause remains under investigation.
Original story: Residents of Parkhill Road east of Santa Margarita appeared to have dodged a potential firestorm late Monday afternoon as a fire raced through 600 acres of grass, brush and oak woodlands.
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The blaze, called the Calf Fire, was reported in early afternoon and closed Highway 58 for seven miles between Pozo Road and Huer Huero Creek Bridge.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered along Parkhill Road by 4:15 p.m. as flames roared along the ridges of the hilly terrain.
Reports around 5 p.m. pegged the fire at 750 acres; however, by 7 p.m. Cal Fire was reporting that better mapping of the blaze found that it was about 600 acres and about 20 percent contained.
In what may be a harbinger of a hot fire season due to the warm winter and lack of moisture in the vegetation, Parkhill residents may have avoided disaster as temperatures dropped to the low 60s late in the day, and a marine layer made its way over the Grade and into inland valleys.
Although the small ranches along the road looked mostly deserted in the late afternoon, with horses and other livestock having been trailered out earlier in the day, some property owners stayed, anxiously watching the skies as tankers, spotter planes and helicopters dove through the smoke to hit hot spots among numerous ridges.
Kathleen Lockyer and her two daughters Veda, 14, and Kira, 12, said they didn’t get an evacuation notice and watched as flames danced on hillsides several hundred yards away from their log cabin home — which, fortuitously, is about a stone’s throw from the Parkhill fire station.
“We got home around 3 p.m., and the whole sky was red and black,” said Lockyer, who moved from Connecticut and into her Parkhill home last December.
As the family dog, Shadow, paced, Lockyer said the rural two-lane road had been packed earlier in the day with “a steady stream of cars and animals being taken out” of harm’s way.
Farther down the road, now slick with orange fire retardant dropped from tankers, a cluster of seven individuals watched the aerial combat. One man who owns 20 acres of rugged terrain, and asked not to be identified, said he had gotten on his tractor earlier in the day and attempted to cut a fire line around his property.
Finally, with flames leaping over him (“it felt like the skin on my arms was melting”) he gave up the battle.
“We evacuated the house stuff down to here (Parkhill Road), but our two old dogs have decided to stay on the porch,” he added.
By that time, with engines and crews from as far away as Santa Barbara taking defensive stands around homes in shallow canyons, the combination of cool weather, precision retardant strikes and some 200-plus firefighters on the ground appeared to have brought the fire under a semblance of control.
Farther east, with Highway 58 closed, almost 1,000 workers on the Topaz Solar Project and the California Solar Ranch in the Carissa Plains will be using La Panza Road for access to their respective projects, according to Alan Bernheimer, spokesman for First Solar, which is building the Topaz Solar Project.