The flames are growing above Santa Barbara this afternoon, as a wildfire that seemed to start near Jesusita Trail in San Roque Canyon continues to march its way up the mountains.
Wildfire expert and Indy correspondent Ray Ford is with a fire crew about 400 yards from the fire, which has been officially named the Jesusita Fire. He said that it is burning straight uphill, with 40-foot high flames. He said that the wind is starting to blow hard, with 20 to 25 mph gusts, pushing the fire northeast and east into Mission Canyon. He’s watching two helicopters attack the fire, and says they are doing a good job of knocking it down. He has noticed a plume coming up from Mission Canyon and believes something may be burning there. But the fire does not seem to be moving back down San Roque Canyon at the moment.
According to continual banter on the police/fire scanner and eyewitness accounts, gunshots were heard in the area where the fire started, traffic is currently deadlocked at Foothill Road, residents are getting angry at being turned away from their homes, and evacuations appear to be ongoing. The Santa Barbara School District has just cancelled class and is allowing children to go home early in the event that their homes are threatened.
Another report on the scanner suggested that there may have been an altercation regarding a resident and authorities charges with keeping residents out of the Tunnel Road area. Residents are urged to be safe and cautious. The City of Santa Barbara seemed to be issuing a mandatory evacuation order for all residents of Mission Canyon north of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, but that could not be confirmed by this posting. Also, the County of Santa Barbara put out an email that said there are no evacuations ordered. The Independent‘s copy editor Jean Yamamura, who lives in the area, reports that Tunnel Road is closed at Montrose Place and residents are not being allowed up.
The Independent‘s Chris Meagher was turned around at Foothill Road, but was able to access the area from the east. He reports that the foothill area is “really, really hot,” that there are helicopters circling, and that it is “eerily quiet.” After making it to the dead end of Mission Canyon, a firefighter told Meagher that the fire was moving due northeast, which is generally away from structures although into very wild hillsides.
EVAC CONFIRMATION as of 3:39 p.m.: Contrary to notices from the County Fire Department below that no evacuations have been issued, Indy reporter Chris Meagher has been told by CHP spokesperson Jim Richards that the areas now under mandatory evacuation include Tunnel Road, north of the Botanic Gardens, including Holly and Spyglass. Also under mandatory evacuation are Orange Grove and Valencia roads, also north of the Botanic Gardens, as well as the top parts of Tunnel and Mission Canyon.
County Fire spokesperson Dave Sadecki said the blaze is a mid-slope fire burning in heavy brush. Winds have changed and are now blowing in a southeasterly direction. The worry is that such winds may push the fire down the slope.
More evacuation notices are expected shortly. Those who live in this general area should stay posted.
EVAC UPDATE: As of 2:59 p.m., no evacuation orders have been issued in connection with the fire now taking place in San Roque Canyon and approaching Mission Canyon.
A reverse 911 call has been issued, however, notifying residents who live near and around the fire scene that now is the time to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. That’s different, however, from an evacuation order.
This information comes courtesy of William Boyer, county PIO, who said he got it from Chief Tom Franklin with whom he spoke five minutes ago. Boyer did not know how many firefighters were engaged in efforts to fight the blaze nor where the incident command post was. City Fire Captain Pat McElroy indicated the that Cater Treatment Plant has been taken over for the time being as command central. Two helicopters are reportedly involved in fighting this.
According to a briefing to the Santa Barbara City Council, the fire is occupying a well-fueled niche between where the Gap Fire burned last summer and where the Tea Fire burned last fall. That area has not burned in many years and is not easily accessible.
RAY FORD UPDATE: According to Ray Ford, a Hot Shots crew from the U.S. Forest Service just came down from Inspiration Point. The fire had reached the power line trail, which means that it is crossing down into Mission Canyon. The firefighters said that the fire was not moving particularly fast, but that winds were increasing.