Santa Barbara County firefighters stationed at Earl Warren Show grounds head to work Thursday afternoon
Paul Wellman

The Gap fire as of this morning has grown to 5,400 acres with such a ferocity that it is now top priority over the estimated 1,400 other fires burning throughout the state. Attempts at containing this fire have drained the energies of most of the firefighters coming off the foothills from last night’s shift. Most of the firefighters come from elsewhere; many coming straight from fighting other fires.

They are being housed at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, sleeping on inflatable mattresses and cots in the shade of the large trees on the grass, which now look like transient encampments, with tents covering any available space. The Fire Service has provided housing trailers and large portable bathrooms, but “most are more comfortable sleeping outside,” explained Helen Tarbet, who is holding down the information desk at the fire operations center. “Because of the magnitude of this fire, we have been pushed to top priority in the state, so we are able to get the resources we need,” Tarbet explained – and that includes manpower.

According to reports from Earl Warren, as of this morning the Forest Service has 10 tankers flying over the fire and seven helicopters all dropping flame retardant with fertilizing capabilities. Santa Maria Airport has been the major take-off point for the air coverage, because its larger functioning capabilities get the larger planes off and on the ground easier than Santa Barbara Airport would allow.

The Sheriff’s Department has been working diligently to maintain a smooth evacuation and manage roads in the area, Commander Don Patterson said. Evacuation warnings can last several hours, days, or only five minutes before a mandatory evacuation notice is announced, Patterson explained. Evacuations were carried out by deputies going door to door, or driving through neighborhoods using loudspeakers, and via reverse 911. All in all, the Sheriff’s Department has up to 40 deputies, including the search and rescue teams, in the Gap Fire effort.


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