As of noon Friday, the 4th of July, the number of firefighters engaged in the battle against the Gap Fire had grown to 800 – up from 350 the day before. The new arrivals have been drawn from blazes in Northern California because Santa Barbara’s Gap Fire has been designated as the top fire fighting priority in the state. Likewise, the number of aircraft deployed in the battle had mushroomed to 20, up from six the day before, according to William Boyer, county public information officer. Nearly 5,000 people were evacuated from 1,600 homes Wednesday evening. Thus far, there’s no confirmation that any actual homes have been consumed, but Fire Department spokesperson Eli Iskow said several “out buildings,” a mobile home, and an indeterminate number of cars may have been destroyed.
Thursday night, the fire was pushed down the mountainsides toward Goleta by gusting sundowner winds, where it was met with a bevy of engines assigned to protect structures. While firefighters succeeded in keeping the flames – some reaching heights in excess of 200 to 300 feet – from consuming the outer limits of Goleta’s developed perimeter, they could not keep the fire from spreading out both to the east and the west. At last count, the Gap Fire measured 5,400 acres – up from 1,400 at this time Thursday – and spread from Ellwood to the east to one small spot fire near Old San Marcos Pass Road to the west. And to the north, Iskow confirmed that the fire came uncomfortably close to crossing over Camino Cielo Road. “It bumped it pretty hard,” Iskow said, “but it did not jump it.”
Iskow explained that firefighters would spend much of today, July 4, preparing lines between the orchards and the mountains so that the flames creeping down the mountains again tonight will find less fuel. Later in the day, he said, firefighters will focus their efforts on the Haney property just north of Camino Cielo in an effort to prevent the inferno from making its way back up the mountainside. If that were to happen, the fear is that it would head down slope toward Cold Spring Tavern. In addition, the fear is that it could spread more easily in any direction.
While Boyer said 20 aircraft had been deployed against the fire, Iskow could not confirm that number. Iskow said that a DC-10 had been ordered, but did not know when it would actually arrive or become engaged in the campaign. DC-10s are among the largest air tankers deployed in forest fires.
It’s all but inevitable that more evacuations will be ordered later today, as the evening winds gather and give fresh nocturnal life to the flames. Already, County Supervisor Janet Wolf, who represents the Goleta Valley, has packed up her car with clothes, papers, and photographs as her home has been placed on evacuation alert.
Last night nearly 100 Goleta residents spent the night sleeping on Red Cross cots in one of San Marcos High School’s two gymnasiums. The Red Cross put 200 cots out Thursday might and had another 100 in storage in case the demand required it. Some of the people who took advantage of Red Cross hospitality said they were treated like guests at a hotel. For breakfast, those assembled dined on scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns, and biscuits courtesy of the Salvation Army. Afterward, the nearby Albertson’s grocery store donated free bottled water accompanied by a delivery of ice.
One mother noted that her kids were given both a late night snack and stuffed animals to keep them comfortable and cozy. Some who spent the night packed very little despite advance warning. “We had two days to figure out what stuff to bring,” said one woman, “but we were in denial.” Others brought almost everything they put their hands on. A North Patterson family managed to bring along a 50-year collection of vintage plastic horses, the computer hard drive containing key family documents, and a closet full of clothes for one daughter.
Some went to the shelter without being warned. Others refused to leave even with sheriff’s officers and National Guardsmen knocking on their doors.
John Dillon of Rancho del Ciervo said his wife tried to persuade two elderly neighbors to leave, but they simply refused. And in some instances, some family members complied with the order while others stayed behind to protect their property. Lisa Ostendorf and her two kids, Ashley and Ryan, were sufficiently spooked by the sight of flames twice as tall as the 100-foot high power lines just across the adjoining avocado orchard from their home. But her husband would not leave. “He had to stay until the flames were licking the front door,” Ostendorf said.
Many people brought along their pets, which were kept outside in a separate area. In all, there were nine dogs, four cats and two rabbits. Bob Muhr spent the night on a cot next to his wife of 38 years, Joan. “It’s a heck of a way to spend your anniversary,” he said. “But I took her to a heck of a nice place.”
In the meantime, county health officials will be distributing free face masks at Camino Real Marketplace, near Costco, today to help residents protect against the invidious assault of invisible air born particulates carried by the clouds of smoke. The masks are available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.