UPDATE, NOON.: The Lookout Fire appears to be on the ropes, as a quick response from more than 150 firefighters — including air tankers dropping retardant and helicopters dumping bucketloads of water — is managing to halt the fire in its tracks, before burning any of the 100 structures located in the Painted Cave, Hidden Valley, and San Marcos Trout Club communities. But fears persist that, if not knocked out by this afternoon, winds could pick up and blow the fire east or west across the Santa Ynez Mountains, so firefighting continues at a fevered pace.
Estimates on the acreage burned range from 15 acres, according to Santa Barbara County Fire, to as many as 25 acres, according to the Los Padres National Forest.
“It's in some pretty heavy and decadent veg,” said Andrew Madsen of the Los Padres, who said that firefighters have managed to stop the upslope spread and continue to work the fire's flanks. “But there are real low winds at this time, only seven mile an hour gusts.”
More than 150 firefighters are on the scene, said Madsen, who added that eight air tankers and five helicopters have been ordered; of those two tankers and four choppers are already working the blaze, and fire retardant has been dropped around about half of the fire. “We've got everything from the forest coming down — all the engines, the hand crews, the hot shots — as well as resources from neighboring national forests,” said Madsen.
Captain David Sadecki, of Santa Barbara County Fire, explained that the fire is a “slope-driven,” and that it stalled when confronted with rocky outcroppings and also the defensible space work done by homeowners in the area. In addition to County Fire and the Forest Service, other agencies involved include Montecito Fire, Santa Barbara City Fire, Cal Fire, the Forest Service, and the Painted Cave and San Marcos volunteer fire departments. Sadecki said that there has been one minor firefighter injury, but did not know details.
Though downed power lines were initially considered the cause, Sadecki said that is still under investigation. He said crews a actively working to get closer to the fire and build fire lines. “It's very inaccessible, steep rocky terrain with narrow roads,” said Sadecki. “It's kind of a race against the wind.”
According to Mark Williams of the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department, about 40 to 50 homes in the Painted Cave community have been evacuated while Hidden Valley and the San Marcos Trout Club remain under advisory evacuation orders. The Red Cross is hosting evacuees at the Wake Center on North Turnpike Road while those with animals can bring them to Earl Warren Showgrounds.
ORIGINAL REPORT, 8:15 A.M.: A wildfire near the intersection of Painted Cave Road and Highway 154 is growing with alarming speed, already threatening structures and bringing the morning commute to a halt. Eight air tankers have been called in, and the highway was closed in both directions, as of 9:25 a.m. The highway opened again at 9:40 a.m.
The original report came in at 7:48 a.m. with flames seen near the Lotus Retreat area. The incident is being called the Lookout Fire, and is now threatening homes on Rim Road, Glen Road, and Lookout Road. There are about 100 homes in the area.
There is not a lot of wind currently, but the breezes are expected to reach 10 to 20 miles per hour as the day goes on. Temperatures are expected to climb to 90 degrees.
According to Santa Barbara County Fire’s David Sadecki, there are “numerous” engines from Santa Barbara County on the fire as well as support from the county’s Air Resources Unit, the Santa Barbara City Fire Department, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, and the California Highway Patrol. Presumably, the volunteer Painted Cave Fire Department is also on the scene. A reverse 911 call has gone out to residents in the area, and live power lines are down.
Acreage is estimated to be 50 acres as of 9:30 a.m., and the cause is under investigation, although downed power lines seem to be at fault.
ON SCENE UPDATE, 9:15 A.M.: Now on the scene of the Lookout Fire is Ray Ford, Santa Barbara’s wildfire veteran, terrain expert, and The Independent’s outdoors editor since 2007. He is standing at the “high house” at the top of Laurel Springs Road, and reports that the fire is directly below him, moving uphill toward the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains. There are pockets of smoldering fire and other spots where the flames are reaching 20 to 30 feet in the air. A helicopter had just dropped water nearby, and the house he is near has about 75 feet of clearance from the nearest brush, enjoying what Ford calls a “good defensible line.” The winds are light.
UPDATE, 9:40 A.M.: According to a radio report with Ted Adams from atop the mountains, the fire seems to have burned more toward the west and away from the Painted Cave community. There are a lot of firefighters on the scene, so Adams explained, “It looks fairly positive right now....The anxiety level has diminished substantially.”