When the fire jumped Highway 154 last night, the mountainous terrain that had narrowly escaped the Gap Fire last summer finally had its encounter with fate when last night's howling winds whipped the area into an inferno.
In the vicinity of La Cumbre Road north of Foothill Road this afternoon, most of the streets were closed to everyone except the fire crews who continued to move equipment in and out of the neighborhoods. In the upper reaches of Debra Lane, at the end of Antone Road, I was able to get a better view of where the fire had spread from its point of origin in San Roque Canyon, progressing over toward Highway 154. The valley surrounding the San Antonio Creek drainage was burned out and smoldering, but remarkably, firefighters had saved most of the homes. Charred vegetation revealed that flames had come right up to the buildings, but as Incident Command explained at the press briefing this morning, fire crews were very busy up there last night. From the look of things, that was an understatement.
Highway 154 is currently a staging area for firefighters working to stabilize the western front of the fire where many spot fires were still burning along the roadside. Though the street is closed from Calle Real up, I found a Kinevan Road resident anxiously trying to find a lift up to his house. A physical education teacher at Adams School, Ethan Shapiro had evacuated his wife and two children from their small mountain home yesterday as flames loomed above the ridge to the east, just across Highway 154. "Man, this is a death zone up here," he said as we drove beneath a thick canopy of dry brush on the narrow dirt road that snaked up to his house. Most of the area hasn't burned since the Coyote Fire in 1964, and there is plenty of dry, dead brush in and around the trees to prove it.
Around the corner on Old San Marcos Road, I found Rob Bjorlund, who had sprinklers running on his property. He had watched the fire from his home last night: "They're hitting it hard and doing a good job of keeping the flames down," he said. "It's all about what happens tonight. We're just hoping we can hold this one off."
When Shapiro was ready to go back down, he brought the good news that his dog, which he had been unable to find last night, was alive and safe, having been taken by another neighbor who had also evacuated. "I got my wife and kids, and now my dog; the rest is just stuff," he said, though it turned out that he was bringing back his surfboard. After all, even though the fire continues to destroy the front country, surf's up in the chilly springtime waters of the Santa Barbara Channel.