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Ray Ford

Notes on the Gap Fire

Fire Edges Away From Fairview, Toward Glen Annie and La Patera


Based on conversations with Independent writer Ray Ford on the fire lines, county public information officer William Boyer, and U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Kathy Good.

As of this writing, the Gap fire is burning 230-260 acres and growing. Two hundred and seventy firefighters have been dispatched from many different agencies including but not limited to Santa Barbara County, Los Angeles County, Ventura, Los Angeles City and the U.S. Forest Service. Given the steepness of the terrain and lack of good access, the battle with the Gap Fire will be an aerial war. The fire command - a joint effort between the Forest Service and Santa Barbara County - has secured four helicopters which began dropping water on the flames at daybreak. In addition, four air tankers of various sizes and carrying capacity began dropping retardant at about 8 a.m. today. Two more tankers have been ordered. The chaparral is about 10 feet tall and thick, and hasn’t burned for 52 years, since the 1955 Refugio Fire. When it goes, it goes fast and explosively. Two of the copters belong to Santa Barbara County; the other two have been provided by Ventura.

Last night about 45 people were ordered evacuated from their homes on the mountain side of La Patera and Glenn Annie in Goleta. Residents living between Cathedral Oaks and Fairview have been put on evacuation alert, meaning they need to be prepared to move. As many as 200 homes are regarded as threatened. There have been no reports of injuries, no structures have been consumed, and none of the incident commanders are even discussing a percentage of containment yet. The big concern is that there will be a sundowner event this evening, spreading the flames closer to inhabited areas. At this writing, the fire remains about one mile away from the closest structure.

The first responders to the fire were two volunteers with was the San Marcos Volunteer Fire department, who then called CHP. Engines crew were quickly dispatched to the scene but had to sit, encountering difficulty finding any purchase in the forbidding terrain. By 8 pm., the dozers had moved in clearing a swath of 3,000 feet through the thick brush. At its widest, the fire line was 90 feet wide; at its narrowest, 30 feet. By 3 a.m., however, the fire had grown so hot and smoky that fire crews were forced to retreat.

Investigators suspect the fire may have started at an old shooting spot. Some reports indicate that fire fighters found a can of cold Coca Cola at the spot of origin, suggesting some human involvement in the fire. Volunteer fire fighters also reported they saw three cars drive by with bike racks and bicycles at about the same time. They did not say that they suspected the people in these vehicles as having started the fire.

The fire was very spotty, meaning that instead of one main body of flame there were smaller “smokers” strung out in a chain. When they came to a steep rise of sandstone, the flames’ descent down the mountain side was slowed, and the fire spread out laterally.

Working in favor of the firefighters is the light wind that prevailed Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. What winds there are have no prevailing direction, and remain light. “Nothing to shake the chaparral leaves,” said Ray Ford, “but that can change.” If it does, he suggested that the interface between Goleta and the mountains - of all south coast locales- might offer the best place to fight back a fire. The ranches and avocado orchards provide some sort of open space buffer. But at this writing, the fire seems to be moving slowly away from the Fairview area and towards Glenn Annie and Patera.

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