Positive thinking reigned supreme at today’s 2 p.m. Gap Fire update press conference, at which both Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin and Gap Fire Incident Commander Wally Bennett spoke optimistically of the current containment efforts for the now 9,400-acre inferno. Calling the southern boundary of the fire, which has been threatening much of Goleta for the past four days, “extremely good at this time” and being similarly upbeat about the northeast limits of the flames licking at edges of Old San Marcos Road and West Camino Cielo, Bennett painted a picture of the human-born wildfire that was markedly sunnier than just 24 hours ago. “The news so far is good – real good.” Said Bennett, before adding with distinct caution, “But we still have a lot of work to be done: This is far from over. There is still a lot of potential here.”
Besides what Bennett called “mop up” work along the southern flanks, crews today are working on fortifying existing lines along the western most stretches of Camino Cielo – a paramount effort, as any jump over the road would spell major trouble for suppression efforts – and “buttoning up” remaining hot spots near Old San Marco and the Trout Club and Haney Tract communities. Also, and perhaps of ultimately of much greater importance, crews, for really the first time since the fire began, will begin turning their full attention to the fast-growing western areas of the blaze that forced an evacuation warning for Eagle Canyon, Naples and Dos Pueblos Ranch in the wee hours of this morning. Burning through nearly 50-year-old chaparral and landscape that is anything but user friendly, the western flank of the fire is perhaps the most troublesome spot as of press time. “This fire wants to move west,” explained Bennett, “And it is in some very rugged and unsafe territory for firefighters:. To safely do it, everything is going to have to be in our favor.” To that end, five new hot shot crews and four attack crews are expected to arrive this afternoon to go along with 16 helicopters, 22 dozers, six air tankers (currently on order, though 15 were utilized yesterday) and 1,188 firefighters all ready on hand. The DC-10 aircraft however, that famously was making drops in the area in recent days, is not fighting the Gap Fire today and is believed to be north at the Basin Fire currently decimating much of Big Sur and the surrounding wilderness. Talking about this rochambeau of firefighting equipment throughout the state, Bennett said simply, “There is just not enough stuff but we are figuring out how to share the equipment.”
Ultimately in forest fire fighting, the weather has the last say and it appears the moderate sundowner events – the down-slope offshore flow that kicks up near canyons and passes towards the back half of the day – are expected to lessen even more today with an on-shore flow taking its place. This could prove challenging for those trying to hold the fire line along West Camino Cielo. Furthermore, the National Weather Service is calling for possible record-breaking heat in the next few days, a development which is sure to make fire hoses, shovels, and other equipment feel just a little bit heavier in the hands of the all ready over worked fire crews. As Bennett put it, “We are going to see some real hot, dry weather the next couple of days – even some triple digits: It is going to get interesting.” Also, a potential tropical, almost monsoon-like flow, is being forecast for midweek as the remnants of an tropical depression currently off the coast of Baja makes its way north. While this system could possibly bring some much-need rain into the area, it could also equal swirling and chaotic winds as well as lightning strikes – two things which fire officials do not want.
Even with the progress of the past day or so, Franklin reminded all in attendance this afternoon that in the game of firefighting, things are only as good as the next weather report and with the uncertainty currently on forecast charts, anything can still happen. “Certainly there is a good deal to be optimistic about, but we don’t want to pull any punches,” said Franklin before adding a bit of historical context. “I think everyone can remember the Zaca Fire [which famously burned for months in Santa Barbara County’s back country last summer despite being nearly contained at several points in its early stages] and it’s is not over until its over.”
In related Gap Fire news, authorities reported that the structures lost to the fire so far include, four “outlying structures” such as barns or storage sheds, one mobile home near the back of Winchester Canyon (though unconfirmed reports from area residents claim it survived), and several abandoned cars. The fact that no homes are on the destroyed list is a testament to so much to the fire’s will but more to the heroic round the clock efforts of fire crews. Speaking specifically about efforts two nights ago near Old San Marcos road, Franklin offered, “There was some real firefighting going on there. Many, many homes were spared because of the crews who fought through the night.”