Winds have died down, but fire crews are still busy containing homes and vegetation already ablaze.
The abysmal black cloud from the still-burning Jesusita Fire looks imposing from dowtown – particularly from the areas above Mission Street – but a quick ride up Cheltenham Road this evening revealed that firefighters have stabilized areas of the blaze – at least for now. Firefighters are working hard, and these efforts appear to have resulted in a few injuries. Though nothing has yet been confirmed, multiple reports have claimed that three Ventura County firefighters have been injured, suffering moderate burns and/or smoke inhalation and being transported to the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital.
Separate from the blaze visible from the city, whole other segments of fire seem to be flaring up around the Gibraltar area, about a mile from Camino Cielo. Estimated by witnesses to be at least a few acres in size, the blaze is shooting up flames around 40 feet into the air. Apparently no firefighters are actively attempting to extinguish this part of the fire at this point, though they are aware of it. It is described as being approximately ten minutes from cresting the hill.
Ray Ford reports that no fire issues anywhere below Highway 192 and no issues in either the San Roque area itself or in the area of Cater. All fire incidents are east of these locations.
About 20 homes were consumed in the area near the intersection of Cheltenham Road, Montrose Place, and Williams Way today, according to firefighters working there. “It was definitely an extreme fire today, and we’re not out of the woods yet if we see the same weather the next few days,” said Captain Adam Estabrook, an 11-year veteran of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. He explained that extremely high winds and a relatively dry winter had created adverse conditions earlier this afternoon. “When we got here, we couldn’t see ten feet in front of us. The fire hit hard over here.”
Estabrooke said that a fair number of houses were saved today, though. Pointing to a burning house, he indicated that the one next to it had been on fire, but that fire crews were able to put it out before significant damage. The neighborhood, which sits on the ridge between San Roque and Mission Canyons, is the epicenter of where the blaze flared up this afternoon. “There’s a lot of fuel between these homes and the canyon, so it went up pretty quick,” said Estabrook, noting that most of the chaparral in the area had had not burned since the Coyote Fire in 1964. Luckily, the wind has died down markedly since this afternoon, and most active spots of fire in that area did not appear to be spreading too much.
Because November’s Tea Fire burned at a relatively low elevation, Estabrooke said that areas of Montecito above that burn area could be affected in the coming days. Although fire still poses a threat to the parts of downtown closest to the fire, he explained that because there is less dry vegetation to fuel the fire and more water and road infrastructure to help battle the flames, residents in those neighborhoods are in better shape.
While the area hasn’t burned for some time, most people didn’t expect a fire of this scale so early in the season. “This is unbelievable that we’re having a fire like this on the first week of May. This is the kind of fire we usually see in the summer months,” said Estabrooke. “We’ve been preparing for this for years in this area, but you’re never really ready when it happens.”
Elsewhere in the city, both good news and bad news abounds.
While Indy reporter Chris Meagher and photographer Paul Wellman were able to observe several fire-damaged homes along Tunnel Road – no word yet on a total – the situation was far better on Spyglass Ridge, where nearly every home had a fire engine in the driveway. Still, burning embers dotted the sides of the road, meaning that even if surrounding vegetation had been either burned or cleared, the structures were not completely safe. One firefighter explained that he and his team would likely stay in the area overnight. Meagher noted that at the end of Spyglass Ridge Road, the paved surface gives way to a dirt path that leads to three houses. The middle of the three homes had been very badly damaged by fire, while firefighters are attempting to subdue a blaze in another of the three.
West of this spot, the flames could be seen heading down toward Lauro Reservoir. They could also be seen earlier tonight throughout most of downtown, bright orange and cresting over the hill. As of 9 p.m., one helicopter was making drops on this larger mass of flames.
Other reports indicate that the fire is raging in upper Rattlesnake Canyon but it well above Scofield Park.
Santa Barbarans will be waking up tomorrow morning anxious to see how this disaster has changed overnight. Joining with them will be Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will be attending a 9 a.m. press conference at Earl Warren Showgrounds. Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County earlier today.