La Brea Fire Tuesday Morning Report

Little growth, big efforts toward containment

[The following information comes from Inciweb, the Forest Service Incident information service, and the County Information Office]

Dozers and crews worked on improving the fire lines on Sierra Madre Ridge and in Cottonwood Canyon. Due to unfavorable conditions, fire crews were unable to conduct burning operations along the Schoolhouse Ridge dozer line on Monday. Firefighters worked to construct direct line above Cottonwood Canyon. Hot Shot crews entered the wilderness north of the Sisquoc River near Manzana Schoolhouse and began work on hot spots and cold trailing at the edge of the fire. Mop up operations continued on the west side of the fire. Firefighters are applying “light on the land” tactics known as MIST (Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics) in the wilderness to limit the impacts in the wilderness.

La Brea Fire map, August 18, 2009

Excellent progress was made last night in the Cottonwood Canyon areaof the fire. Hot Shot crews were utilized to directly attack the fire at its edge. 90% of the line that was to be built from the Sierra Madre Ridge to the bottom of the Schoolhouse drainage is now in place. Today firefighters will continue to complete that line, which is a major component of the current containment strategy. Fire behavior has remained active in some areas of the fire and there is still potential for growth. The fire crossed some drainages in the area south of Sierra Madre Ridge yesterday and made some uphill runs. Aerial attack was used to reduce the intensity of these flare ups. With crews that have been inserted into the San Rafael Wilderness Area, fire managers are keeping a close eye on the current situation. Hotshot crews that were inserted into the wilderness, have made progress working from the south to the north on the eastern side of the fire. Crews made progress cooling hot spots near the fire edge from the Sisquoc River to an area just west of Water Canyon campground.

The overall objectives of the rehab/repair plan are to minimize resource impacts that are a direct result of the suppression activities on the La Brea Incident and to the extent possible return to conditions that existed prior to fire suppression activities. Of major concern are dozer lines and road impacts that could result in erosion.

With a near perfect safety record for the incident, fire managers are exhorting crews to exercise patience and to be cautious in the final push to containment.

Evacuation Orders are still in effect as issued by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. Based on the progress made yesterday and last night, the current evacuation areas will be re-evaluated.

Fire operations and incident management teams need to keep very aware of current weather conditions and be able to anticipate changes in the weather., In order to do this they use remote automated weather stations or RAWS. Portable RAWS stations are sometimes placed at fires on a temporary basis. The La Brea Fire is currently using several of these sites. For additional information on RAWS sites,

The Manzana School House has survived another fire. Standing on the bench above the confluence of Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River, the Manzana school house brings to mind images of turn of the century life and homesteading. Constructed in 1893, the schoolhouse served a community of about 200 people, living on 20 homesteads near the confluence. Los Angeles precipitation records suggest that five of the seven years from 1894 to 1900 were dry in Southern California. This drought followed a relatively wet 15 year period and would have resulted in a dramatic change in water resources. Farms failed as the drought persisted, and in 1902 the school closed. The Schoolhouse is a Santa Barbara County Historic Landmark. La Brea Fire officials were considering using a fire retardant wrap to protect the old wooden structure but structure protection efforts by firefighters kept the popular site from going up in flames.

Cause: Fire was started by a cooking fire at a marijuana drug trafficking operation.

Date of Origin: Saturday August 8, 2009 approximately 2:50 p.m

Location: 21 Miles east of Santa Maria

Current Situation

Total Personnel: 1,760

Size: 88,650 acres

Percent Contained: 75%

Fuels Involved: Primarily Chaparral with areas of grass and timber.

Fire Behavior: Overall, fire activity overnight was very light. There was some slow fire spread near the top of Sierra Madre Ridge in the Cottonwood Canyon area. In addition, occasional activity was seen well inside of the current perimeter of the fire.

Significant Events: Focusing on the east side of the fire, direct and indirect line was constructed in the Cottonwood and Schoolhouse Canyon areas. Starting on top along the Sierra Madre Road, crews made gains working the fire’s edge down towards the Cuyama Valley. On the south end, crews constructed direct line where needed and mopped up from the Mazana Schoolhouse north towards Sierra Madre Ridge.


Planned Actions: Crews will continue to patrol Sierra Madre Road for remaining hot spots. In Cottonwood Canyon, work will continue to finish the direct fire line started from the top of the ridge. In the San Rafael Wilderness area, line will be constructed using minimal impact suppression tactics (MIST). Crews will use these practices as they work north towards the Sierra Madre Ridge having started from the Manzana Schoolhouse in the south. Elsewhere within the fire, efforts are being made to identify and coordinate natural resource rehabilitation efforts.

Day Operations Plan: Completion of the line from Sierra Madre Ridge to Cottonwood Canyon. Mop-up of hot spots 300 feet into the burned area will continue today, and rehabilitation of the hand and ‘dozer lines will strongly begin today. The focus will be to construct water bars, which can slow water movement on bare soil once rains return.

Weather: There are critically dry fuels. Max temperatures are 88-98 in higher elevations. The relative humidity will be around 15-25 percent. The winds will be out of the northeast 8-14 mph with gust to 20, switching to a north- westerly direction in the late afternoon.

Growth Potential: High

Terrain Difficulty: Extreme

Remarks: Fire is being managed under Unified Command with California Interagency Management Team 3 (commander Pincha-Tully), Cal Fire (commander Heil) and Santa Barbara County Fire Department (commander Schmitt). An evacuation order is still in effect for the 23 threatened residences on Foothill Road and the Cottonwood Canyon area. The two structures destroyed were a non-operational White Oaks Ranger Station and a hunter’s cabin to the east.


Engines: 67

Crews: 55

Dozers: 33

Water Tenders: 59

Helicopters: 12

Fixed Wing: 5


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