Park Rangers watch the early stages of the La Brea Fire from the top of Figueroa Mountain at 2:55 p.m. Saturday Aug. 8, 2009

Bryan O'Quinn

Park Rangers watch the early stages of the La Brea Fire from the top of Figueroa Mountain at 2:55 p.m. Saturday Aug. 8, 2009

La Brea Burning Big

The Santa Barbara backcountry is yet again ablaze as the La Brea Fire continues to torch the deepest reaches of Los Padres National Forest, with sky-high smoke clouds visible for miles and nearly 25,724 acres consumed as of press time. The wildfire, which began at about 3 p.m. on August 8, is burning the heart of the remote, mountainous San Rafael Wilderness between the Santa Maria and Cuyama valleys, where the flames are feeding on dense chaparral that, in some places, hasn’t burned since 1922.

On Tuesday, more than 1,200 firefighters were on the scene, as well as nine helicopters and the Martin Mars air tanker, which can drop 7,200 gallons-but that couldn’t stop officials from issuing an evacuation order to about 14 ranches in the region. By Wednesday morning, that order included everything between Sierra Madre Road to the west, Highway 166 to the east, Cottonwood Road to the south, and Spoor Canyon to the north, including Moon and Eckert canyons; an evacuation warning was in effect for areas between 166 and Sierra Madre Road and Cottonwood and Wasioja roads. On the west side of the fire, officials also shut down Colson Canyon Road, which comes out of Tepesquet Canyon, where dozens of ranches are surrounded by heavy brush. To accommodate evacuees, the Red Cross set up a shelter at the Benjamin Foxen School in the town of Sisquoc.

As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, fire officials had declared La Brea Fire 10-percent contained and had no expected date of containment. While the cause is under investigation, there were no reports of lightning that afternoon, so initial speculation has focused on the start of deer hunting season, as the fire in Owl Canyon began near the backcountry camp of Chuchadas. See for updates.

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