Frontlines of the Nojoqui Grade Fire

Brush Fire Explodes Next to Highway 101

A helicopter battles a brush fire on Nojoqui Grade on Wednesday, May 23, 2007.
Matt Kettmann

Fire season started with a whimper this afternoon in Santa Barbara County when, at about 2:45 p.m., a brush fire began at the top of the Nojoqui Grade right next to Highway 101. The afternoon wind was just picking up, so the flames were being pushed into oak trees and downhill toward the flat farmland adjacent to the Nojoqui Falls Park turn-off.

The smoke was visible from Buellton, a couple miles north, but the traffic on southbound 101 flowed freely. On the northbound side, traffic was also still flowing, despite flames being nearly on the blacktop. On the road leading toward Nojoqui Falls Park, the residents of the nearby ranches were a flurry of activity, understandably concerned that any brush fire in this tinder-dry season could explode to something catastrophic. That’s why the fire trucks arrived almost immediately, including five engines from County Fire, one engine and crew from the Los Padres National Forest, and a large dozer.

A helicopter douses the brush fire next to Highway 101.

Most impressive, and the reason for cars stopping to watch, was the water-dropping helicopter, which would ring a loud siren before dropping its load. It would then fly eastward toward, most likely, the Alisal Reservoir, and return a few minutes later for another dousing. Meanwhile, on the ground, crews were busy making containment lines, hosing down the blackened earth, and watching flames occasionally shoot skyward into trees. Above the flames, on the side of the highway, were numerous flashing lights and, of course, John “The Palm” Palminteri from KEYT News, who watched with his cameraman. (If you didn’t know, he’s kind of a big deal around here.)

After much hard, fast work, the fire crews had the flames under control after a mere 5.4 scorched acres. There were no injuries, the nearby ranch structures were never in any apparent danger, and the entire ordeal was chalked up as “contained” by 3:30 p.m., about 45 minutes after it began. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, though it’s easy to speculate it may be related to passing cars and perhaps a carelessly tossed cigarette. (Use your ash trays, people.)

It was a good break on what could have been a bad day if the fire crews had not been so quick and efficient in their reponse. Fingers are crossed throughout California for the rest of this summer.