Shows potential perimeter of the burn area in green with current fire area in red.

Google Map

Shows potential perimeter of the burn area in green with current fire area in red.

Fire Command Considers Burning Out Backcountry

Entire Dick Smith Wilderness Inside Possible Burn Perimeter

In a sign that fire command may not believe it can stop the fire from crossing the Santa Ynez River and moving to the front country, officials are looking into burning out a huge part of the Santa Barbara backcountry.

With high temperatures and low humidity predicted for the next three days, operations leaders decided are considering a strategy they hoped they’d never have to use: circling the entire fire boundary and burning back into it. This represents an expansion of the fire perimeter that could encompass an additional several hundred thousand acres.

At the morning cooperators meeting this morning, Incident Commanders Mark Schmitt and Bill Molumby told those present the burn, once started, would take 10-14 days and could begin on the north part of the fire line as soon as resources were in place and on the south side as early as Monday. County public information officer William Boyer, however, noted in a later interview that no decision has been made in the matter and that the back country burn was still only a move crews were considering.

By Ray Ford

Incident Commander Bill Molumby tells cooperating agencies that fire command has decided to burn out a large part of the backcountry to keep it from spreading into populated areas.

In somber terms, Molumby, who is the Incident Commander for the Forest Service Type 1 team, described a boundary that could include all of the Dick Smith Wilderness, close Highway 33 near Ozena at times and turn what is now an 80,000 acres fire into one that could consume a large part of Santa Barbara County.

Once you pull the switch,” Molumby told the stunned crowd, “there’s no turning back.”

All we need to begin the burning is to get the logistical pieces in place,” Schmitt added. “We’d planned on starting the burn on the north side along the Sierra Madre crest but we weren’t quite ready.”

Operations leaders expect that about 60-70 percent of the country inside the perimeter would burn. “We’ll have a black edge on the boundary but there’ll be lots of islands inside it that won’t burn.” Molumby explained.

With large portions of the San Rafael Wilderness already burned, the impacts on wildlife and watershed quality will be immense as well as the amount of smoke, ash and other particulates that will be released when an area this size burns.

Tonight, another in the series of community meetings will be held at the Museum of Natural History. Meeting time is 6 p.m. Perhaps more explanation of the burn out will be given then.

Forest Service Map

Map shows burn area on the lower edge of the fire. Higher temperatures the next three days should cause this area to burn quite a bit.

On the lower front of the fire, there was additional movement on the fire line, with flames moving over Pie Canyon Jeepway and down into the wilderness near Indian Camp.

Forest Service Map

Map of the upper fire perimeter shows the fire is moving into the Sisquoc River area and expanding down canyon as well. The fire is now near Cottonwood Camp.

On the upper fire line, the fire made headway into the Sisquoc drainage, expanding both down to the river and west towards Rattlesnake Canyon.

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