As the plain eye can see from downtown Santa Barbara, the Jesusita Fire is now at least two distinct blazes, the west flank hitting the mountains and canyons near Highway 154, the eastern flank trying to overtake East Camino Cielo near La Cumbre Peak and east of Gibraltar Road.
At about 2 p.m., Ray Ford called from Gibraltar Road between Flores Flats and the Rock Garden, where he was watching fire both above and below him. He reported that the fire had blown over Gibraltar Road to the east below him, burning the skeleton of a structure that's sat there unfinished for awhile and toasting the cell towers pretty good too. Flores Flats, the community located in one of the nooks, appeared safe at that moment. But if the fire reaches the top and starts swirling, it could be in danger. That's why there are a lot of engines there, said Ford. As usual, it all depends on the wind, which was virtually nonexistent at the time he called. As everyone knows by now, however, that could change instantaneously.
He also explained that there are plenty of spots where the fire is burning alongside Gibraltar Road and there aren't enough firefighters to do anything about it. "There are lots of places burning right alongside the road, and nothing is being done," he said.
Looking up from his position toward the formerly pine-studded Rock Garden and White Mountain, Ford said the fire was burning there too and heading toward East Camino Cielo. Meanwhile, it's also coming up Mission Canyon, Ford believes, and could reach the ridge in that gully as well.
The ridgeline, which was hit by the DC-10 with retardant earlier today, is a crucial location because once there, the Jesusita gets wind fuel from both sides. That means it can spread to the east and west much easier, in that a good wind on one side could be a bad wind for the other side. "It's a pretty serious situation," said Ford in a pretty serious tone. It could go over the ridge - flames are already being seen in the Santa Ynez Valley - or it could blow eastward into the mountains above Montecito and Summerland, which is why the evacuation zone is steadily creeping east. East Camino Cielo gives the Jesusita many places to go, and as we've seen, that's never a good thing.
A little later in the day, just after 3 p.m., Indy reporter Chris Meagher phoned in a report from near the intersection of Coyote Road and Mountain Drive. He described the location as being "smack-dab" in the middle of where the Tea Fire hit last November.
Meagher said he spoke to a resident of Coyote Circle who had chosen not to evacuate. "We're ready to roll," the man told him, meaning the residents of his home were prepared to do what they can to fight off the fire. Not everyone chose this tactic, however.
Meagher described the area as quiet, with most homes seeming empty with sprinklers going. He couldn't even hear helicopters. "There are homes here, and then there are what used to be homes," Meagher explained of the Tea Fire-scarred area.
Meagher was sitting next to a ravine that the Coyote Circle resident described as being "thick with green" previous to the Tea Fire. It's mostly bare now, with only small patches of green. Likewise, the surrounding area is mostly rocks. "I don't know where the fire would go if it came here," Meagher said.
At the intersection of Cold Springs Road and Mountain Drive, Meagher ran into a strike team and spoke with Phil Hernandez of the Arroyo Grande hot shot team. Hernandez told Meagher that the fire is west of the Tea House. "Just in case the winds change, we're going to come up with a contingency plan," Hernandez said. Meagher described the Cold Springs Road area as being mostly devoid of people.
Finally, Meagher noted that the fire is now reportedly higher up on the mountain than where it originally crossed Gibraltar, meaning it's moving north from where he was. As he understands the situation, the fire is climbing the mountain. He didn't know whether houses exist up there, but he surmised that it didn't seem likely.
Other reports from Mercury Press photographer Isaac Hernandez, who is near the fire's western flank, say that the San Marcos Trout Club appears to be safe right now, with engines stationed nearby. The firefight seems to be to the southeast over a ridge. Hernandez spoke with a firefighter on San Marcos Pass, and he explained that the hot spots in the area are currently being isolated with bulldozers, chainsaws, water drops, and the like.
The Department of Public Health is running an evacuation shelter at the UCSB Thunderdome strictly for those with special medical needs or those who are disabled. The site was open to evacuees at around 11 p.m. last night.
According to Peter Hassel, the Public Health medical director, the site is specifically for people who require special assistance for medical problems, especially those who are living in private homes - that is, not nursing facilities - and are in need of medical attention. Hassel anticipates the Thunderdome will be serving up to 60 people. This number depends also on those evacuees who are accompanied by nurses, family, or anyone else brought along for support.
Approximately 60 cots are set up in the space, with blankets, food, and water for evacuees. UCSB volunteers, as well as some more from Devereux, are at the site to assist the Public Health officials, who are also working with the Department of Social Services to run this facility, which is separate from the Red Cross evacuation sites at Dos Pueblos High School and at UCSB.
Disabled and elderly people sat outside the steps of the Thunderdome, surprisingly with no face masks, staring at the smoky sky above them. Donald and Pearl Granger were at the site after having received a Reverse 911 call at around 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon ordering them to evacuate their residence at the Pebble Creek Condos near Calle Real and San Marcos Road. The Grangers, an older couple, said the Thunderdome volunteers have been very helpful, serving them breakfast this morning and providing blankets for their sleep last night. When asked what their plans were, Pearl reported that they "had nowhere else to go" and that they would stay there for as long as they could.
Those who need to evacuate and have special medical needs should contact the Department of Public Health for transportation and evacuation assistance at (805) 681-5197.