Incident Commander Joe Waterman notified members of the Santa Barbara City Council Tuesday afternoon that the projected arrival of sundowner winds off the mountains this evening has pushed back his announcement the Jesusita Fire is 100 percent contained by a day or two. For the moment, he said the fire, which started a week ago, remains 80 percent contained.
Waterman explained that he’s most concerned that the two creek drainages that run along the eastern and western edges of the fire could have a “channeling effect,” giving concentrated focus to winds expected to blow 15-to-20 miles an hour from the northwest, but gust at speeds of 45 miles an our. (An official warning from the National Weather Service released earlier today projected even stronger winds: 30-40 miles per hour, with gusts up to 60 miles per hour.) Waterman said he’ll be resources in those areas for the rest of the day and well into the night.
As he stepped up to the podium in the City Council chambers Tuesday, Waterman received a spontaneous standing ovation and a round of applause from Mayor Marty Blum, all of the councilmembers, and everyone assembled in the council chambers. “Wow!” he said. “That’s overwhelming.”
The council session was attended by firefighting executives with the city, the county, the U.S. Forest Service, Montecito, and finally CALFire, for whom Waterman works. According to the briefing they provided the council, the fire had not grown on Tuesday and remained at 8,700 acres. At that time, the fire was not actively burning anywhere, just smoldering. Still, the concern remained intense that fresh winds could stir up some hot spots. Currently, 3,100 fire fighters, 48 engine strike teams, 12 helicopters and eight fixed wing planes were trying to keep the fire bottled up. The gigantic DC-10, the converted passenger jet capable of dropping 13,000 gallons of retardant in one drop, is no longer being used. Waterman said that the DC-10 executed “four drops as far as I know,” mostly on the Camino Cielo Ridge.
City Battalion Chief Pat McElroy outlined for the council the incident command structure that allows firefighters from numerous fire agencies from throughout the state to come together at a moment’s notice and work together cooperatively. “We’re like a huge corporate merger on the fly,” McElroy explained. Waterman elaborated, “Imagine taking professional football players from a bunch of NFL teams and putting them into a team with no coach, then turning that team loose on the Super Bowl.”
Waterman would later explain that, in fact, there was no shortage of coaching talent. Referring to all the fire fighting brass assembled in the council chambers, Waterman noted, “You’re probably wondering who’s watching the fire?” Answering their unasked question, he explained he had 45 people working under him managing the fire.