While nearby wildland residents worried about the fire spreading south, wilderness buffs were anxious about its impact on the Mission Pine area. Here flames spread out towards Mission Pine Springs,
Courtesy of Forest Service
Fire burns along the edge of a ridge in the Santa Cruz drainage. Though the brush is heavy, without wind it burns slowly. At times this may create a false impression the fire is under control but locations such as this are almost inaccessible and fire here is difficult to put out.
Courtesy Forest service

During last night’s community meeting for wildland residents in the Paradise, Rosario Park and Camino Cielo areas, County Supervisor Brooks Firestone asked the question on everyone’s minds. “When will the fire get to the twenty-four hour line?” he asked Incident Commander Aaron Gelobter.

During the presentations made by Gelobter, County Fire Chief Scherrei and others, the focus had been on what are called “trigger points” – locations in the Santa Cruz drainage that would set evacuation warnings or orders in motion.

A section of the operation map for the Zaca Fire, this part shows the entire Santa Cruz drainage. At its widest it spans more than eight miles, making it one of the backcountry's biggest and most challenging places to fight a fire.
Courtesy Forest Service

“I think we’ve got at least a day, probably two before we get to that point” Gelobter replied. Then he reminded the audience that the twenty-four hour mark -roughly at the point along Santa Cruz Creek where a Forest Service camp and administrative out-building is located – was design to let fire officials know it was time to re-evaluate strategies and only if needed order the evacuation warning.

Gelobter added, “Wind conditions, fuels, the direction the fire is heading all need to be looked at closely. We’ve got enough time to add additional dozer lines and burn out some of the brush if that will help. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” he added, echoing a similar comment made by Chief Scherrei.

Earlier that afternoon before the meeting was held, dozers could be spotted on the ridgeline east of Peachtree Canyon widening the break there and getting ready to add new dozer line from just below Santa Cruz Peak along the south ridge of Black Canyon to pinch off the fire and keep it from advancing down towards the Santa Ynez River canyon.

Photographed from Buckhorn Road, a major column of smoke on the front face of Mission Pine ridge indicates the fire has reached extremely dry fuels.
Courtesy of Forest Service
Helicopters continued to add water and retardant on the ridges, keeping the fire from spreading south.
Courtesy of Forest Service

With almost two dozen helicopters, eight air attack places, hot shot crews, dozers and other equipment, the strategy on the southern side of the fire is to turn it to the east, keep it north of the Alexander and Little Pine Mountain area and focus back up into Santa Cruz Canyon.

Heavy smoke still makes it almost impossible to tell what is happening in the back reaches of the fire line. A visit to the fire camp at Live Oak confirms the fire’s pace has slowed in upper Santa Cruz canyon, partly because it is now moving over and down lateral drainages coming off the 5,000′ high Mission Pine ridge, but mostly due to the lack of wind.

By the end of the day yesterday, the fire’s leading edge had advanced less than a half mile. Still, for those who know the area, precious ground is being burned. Yesterday, flames crossed the trail leading up to Mission Pine Basin were advancing on Coche Camp.

For fire fighters this is actually good news. For the most part, the wilderness won’t get burned except under conditions such as this; the fire is going slow enough to leave what habitat experts call a “mosaic” in many places; and best of all, if they can turn the southern flank of the fire east to join the advance here, Paradise and the communities beyond will be safe.

Steep ridges like this cause the fire to creep downhill. From the Observation Point images like this and the one below make for dramatic scenes and nervous residents.
Courtesy of Forest Service
At times, fire activity got extremely intense over the past days; while at many others it moved slowly down into the Santa Cruz drainage, making it possible for fire fighters to work their way around it on the edges.
Courtesy of Forest Service

As the fire moves across the front face of Mission Pine Ridge there is a concern the fire could jump back into the Sisquoc drainage at a puerto suelo – which can be translated roughly as “open window” or “doorway” – that separates the Basin from West Big Pine. With an elevation nearly 500′ lower than that on either side, should the fire run up the front side it could slop over into Rattlesnake Canyon on the north.

There is also the question, should the fire be turned back to the east, as to whether it can be stopped on Buckhorn Road. The distance is less than three miles from Coche to Bluff Camp, which is located on Buckhorn Road at the bottom of the 2,500′ face of Big Pine Mountain. Beyond that is the Dick Smith Wilderness. Should it continue past Bluff Camp into Indian Creek we will be looking at another chapter in what is becoming a summer-long saga.

Fire Maps
For a look at up close views of a variety of the fire maps, try the links listed below:

Fire Information Map – provides an overview of the entire fire boundary and its location in the county.

Fire Progression Map – shows the fire and what burned day-by-day and includes the amount burned each day.

Fire History Map – shows historical fires in the backcountry. Note the overlay of the Zaca Fire on it and that it is now burning into territory never before burned in our fire history.

Operations Map – shows overview from the operations standpoint of the entire fire area, including Cachuma Lake as a reference.

Closeup Operations Map – shows much closer view of the Santa Cruz drainage.


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