Santa Barbara County declared a state of emergency after the Sherpa Fire exploded over night. It has now consumed over 4,000 acres and has forced closures of local, state and federal parks and required mandatory evacuations in Santa Barbara County. An Air Quality Advisory has been issued for Los Angeles and Orange Counties as well. The L.A. Fire Department has been fielding 9-1-1 calls from people reporting the smell of smoke.
According to the InciWeb reporting system firefighters were kept busy by sundowner winds that pushed the fire down slopes, expanding the fire at a much faster pace than the day time. It is now spreading through the Santa Ynez Mountains.
There are now 1,200 firefighters involved in the effort to contain the inferno. Santa Barbara County Fire Department Chief Eric Peterson told reporters, “It is ominous. We are concerned because the fuels out there are drought-stressed. There’s a lot of tree mortality out there that makes fire behavior worse. The drought is making an already pretty volatile situation not any better.”
California is in the fifth year of a drought.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told the media he doesn’t want residents to become complacent, just because the fire conditions appeared to be getting better during the day. He said, “We do not want our residents to have a false sense of security.”
People should continue to heed the mandatory evacuations and for the people living in areas under an evacuation warning, they should be ready to leave within a moments notice. The fire is moving just that fast.
We are in for a heat wave this weekend and the humidity, which was at 70 percent this morning, will drop, giving the fire more impetus and fuel to burn. The sundowner winds are expected to start picking up at around 5 p.m.
In the report they said the fire was being managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. The report said, “The Fire Has Exhibited Extremely Fast Downhill Runs During Evening And Overnight Hours Due To Down-slope Sundowner Winds. The Fire Once Again Impacted Highway 101 Which Was Closed From Buellton To Winchester Dr. This Portion Of The Highway Was Opened At 0400 This Morning. It Is Anticipated That This Type Of Fire Behavior Will Continue Each Night As Long As Sundowner Winds Continue. Crews Were Successfully Able To Protect Residential Property In The El Capitan Canyon Area, And El Capitan State Beach. Southern Pacific Railway Was Opened To Traffic At 2300 Hours Last Night.”
During the evening hours a water treatment plant that serviced El Capitan State Beach was destroyed in the fire. Officials for all park systems in the area are keeping the parks closed for now, but hope to have them open as soon as possible.
On Thursday fire authorities thought they would have the fire contained by June 22, but now they have removed that prediction from their website.
Authorities expect the sundowner winds to continue through the weekend, with the peak being Saturday evening. This is an area that hasn’t burned in 50-70 years so there is a lot of fuel for the fire to continue, if weather conditions continue as expected.
Keep your radio or television on, tuned to a local station for any emergency messages. The Santa Barbara County Fire Department hotline: 805-681-5546
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UPDATE: June 18, 2016, 1:30 a.m.: The Sherpa Fire has now expanded to 6,321 acres and continues to grow. many acres of crops have been damaged, but as of yet they don’t know the financial cost of the damage.
There is a continued threat to structures, agricultural crops and critical infrastructure: communication sites, power lines, railways and Highway 101. The primary fuel is brush and tall chaparral, some of which has been growing unburned for 65-plus years.
The sundowner winds make the fire unpredictable. In the day the fire moves in a northeast direction, but at night with the sundowner winds it moves in a southeast direction.
This weekend the area will experience a very severe heat wave with some places reaching triple digit temperatures and very low humidity and dew points. With the winds driving the fire, sometimes incredibly fast, especially at night, the Sherpa Fire poses a lot of risk to people and livestock in the area.
The authorities predict the fire will continue to grow, despite it being 20 percent contained.
The mandatory evacuations remain in effect: from east of the Refugio burn area, Refugio State Beach: Refugio Canyon, Canada del Venadito Canyon, Las Flores Canyon, El Capitan Canyon, El Capitan Ranch, El Capitan State Beach, Canada de la Destiladera.
Evacuation warnings remain in effect for areas east of El Capitan Canyon to Farren Road: Las Llagas Canyon, Gato Canyon, Las Varas Canyon, Dos Pueblos Canyon and Eagle Canyon. Residents who live in West Goleta are encouraged to formulate an emergency evacuation plan.
If you need help evacuating small or large animals, call 805-681-4332.
A shelter has been set up at Wake Center, 300 N. Turnpike Road, Santa Barbara. It currently has seven people. Small pets are okay.
With standby shelters:
o Santa Ynez Union High School, 2975 E. Hwy 246, Santa Ynez. (STANDBY)
o San Marcos High School, 4750 Hollister Ave., Santa Barbara. (STANDBY)
o Santa Barbara High School, 700 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara. (STANDBY)
The firefighting is under the unified command of the U.S. Forest Service, Santa Barbara County Fire Department and Cal Fire. At this time they have 1,230 people fighting the fire, 13 helicopters, six large tankers and two DC-10s. Seventy-five engines have responded with five water tankers. they are also using four dozers.
One firefighter was injured with minor lacerations.
Top photo from Santa Barbara County Fire Department, unless other wise noted.
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