On Monday, the Rey Fire burned along Indian Creek as shifting winds kept it out of the Mono watershed. The view here is from the Indian Creek trailhead looking toward the fire as it is poised to cross over and head uphill toward the Mono drainage.
Update on Five Days of the Rey Fire
Wind Brings Surprising Twists and Continuing Drama
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
On Monday it was anybody’s guess which way the Rey Fire would head. During the first few days of the fire, now marking its fifth day, Rey expanded to the northwest, in the process blackening close to 10,000 acres of Rancho San Fernando Rey, before burnout operations succeeded in containing that part of the fire. Over the past two days, the fire took a 180-degree turn and is now spreading east and north, with the potential to pose a direct threat to South Coast communities and to char large portions of the Dick Smith Wilderness. The wilderness area holds major portions of the watersheds to the north of Lake Cachuma.
From the news releases posted by Los Padres Forest officials, it is difficult to get a clear picture of what has burned or what might in the coming days. Yes, the fire is now burning into the Dick Smith Wilderness and for the most part away from the coast. That is good news. The bad is that continued drought, incredibly dry brush, and temperatures that again soared into the 90s yesterday have created the potential for the Rey Fire to expand much further to the interior and toward Highway 33 than one would have thought possible just two days ago.
The wind has played a major factor in determining where the fire will go and what opportunities firefighters will have to contain it. On Saturday night, when the wind shifted to the east, bringing the fire swiftly down onto the Upper Oso Campground area, it effectively helped secure the west side of the fire. But at the same time it opened the door for the fire to jump Oso Canyon and head east — a situation that could ultimately lead it over the Santa Ynez Mountains and down into Montecito or Santa Barbara.
Location markers are superimposed over a photo taken early Monday, August 22, overlooking Gibraltar Dam and Camuesa Ridge. Mono Creek, which lies about four miles from Santa Barbara as the crow flies, is to the right, with Indian Creek to its left. Both drain down to Gibraltar Reservoir.
A Push to the East
By mid-morning on Sunday, it was clear that the fire would brush past the White Fire scar and continue east. By noon a massive front had built, with flames centered just north of the ridges that line the river canyon, stretching from Oso to the Red Rock area. By 1 p.m. that front continued to push east down Camuesa Canyon, and the fire was in danger of crossing the Santa Ynez River near the upper end of Gibraltar Reservoir where Camuesa Creek merges with the river. From that point, the fire would have been within reach of the northern slopes of the mountains that separate the valley from the coast, a long, steep escarpment that has not burned in recorded fire history.
Just after 1 p.m., however, a northeast wind began to pick up, keeping the fire well away from the river. The wind did three major things: It kept the flames from reaching the Camuesa Ridge and allowing the fire to enter the river drainage; it stopped the eastward progress of the fire just short of Camuesa Peak; and it provided needed time for the aerial assault to lay down enough retardant to protect the river corridor.
At the incident center at Live Oak Camp on Sunday night, firefighters were told the major focus for Monday would be holding the fire from crossing Mono Creek. By this time the fire was active from the Camuesa Ridge area north beyond a series of cliffs known as the Chalk Bluffs to an area just east of Little Pine Mountain. By sunset the fire was burning down into Buckhorn Canyon and heading directly toward Indian Creek. The Mono drainage lies just beyond Indian Creek, and it was questionable whether it would be possible to meet that goal.
By Ray Ford
Rey Fire, August 22, 8 a.m.: lots of smoke and little fire.
At 8 a.m. Monday morning, driving along the crest of East Camino Cielo, lots of smoke could be seen hanging in the maze of backcountry canyons, but only two small areas showed active fire and small plumes. One of those was on the east side of Camuesa Peak at a point where the creek makes a sharp turn and intersects the Santa Ynez River; the other was further to the interior in Buckhorn Canyon. Both seemed fairly benign. Things actually seemed pretty calm.
By 9 a.m. most of the smoke in the Camuesa drainage was gone, but the plume in Buckhorn Canyon was starting to build as the temperatures climbed into the 80s. By 10 a.m. the fire there had morphed into a major column of fire and smoke. Fortunately the canyon winds were blowing west, checking its progress somewhat. By this time the aerial attack had begun with thousands of gallons of retardant laid across the east side of the column. For the moment, between the retardant and wind, the fire column was held in place.
Rey Fire, August 22, 9 a.m.: Column begins to build in Buckhorn.