As I headed towards Santa Maria via Highway 154, it was impossible to get a handle on how the La Brea Fire was progressing. Smoke was scattered through the sky, obliterating almost all of the distant mountains.
But by the time I passed Santa Maria and headed east on Highway 166 it became clear the fire was expanding. From Highway 101 it is just over 25 miles to the start of the Sierra Madre Road. Though dirt, it is very easy to drive, and in less than 10 miles of winding oak-and-grass covered hillsides lead to Miranda Pine Mountain and the first views of the fire.
The sky in front of me was filled with tall billowing clouds that varied in color from light tans to deep charcoal blacks. What I thought might be a one-day fire had turned ugly within less than 24 hours and was advancing quickly towards the Sierra Madre Ridge.
Just east of Miranda Pine was a staging ground of sorts with hot shots, engine crews, CDF prison crews and an assortment of others awaiting assignment. The squawk on the radio was clear – the forces were getting ready for a major battle along the Sierra Madre Ridge. “Gonna be another Zaca Fire,” one crew member ventured. “Gotta be over 10,000 acres by now,” another said. “Hope you don’t have any plans for the next week,” someone else added.
Look for a more detailed account of where things stand tomorrow after tonight’s backfire operations. What is clear is that Santa Barbara has another big wildfire on its hands.