A skycrane helicopter makes a drop on the Highway 101 center divider at El Capitan State Park
Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire

Late Thursday night, firefighters crouched behind their engine as flames driven by northern 35-mph sundowner winds advanced toward El Capitan State Beach — captured by Santa Barbara County Fire’s Mike Eliason in a now-iconic photograph of the Scherpa Fire.

More than 30 hours after the fire first charred Refugio Canyon — at Rancho La Scherpa on 2540 Refugio Road — over 1,200 firefighters from across the state struggled to put out the wildfire, which grew to 4,000 acres of rough terrain, as of Friday morning, according to Los Padres National Forest. It was 5 percent contained.

At about 5 a.m. Friday, Highway 101 was reopened after it was shut down overnight — this time for 35 miles between Buellton’s Highway 246 and Goleta’s Winchester Canyon Road. Traffic in the area was heavy. Calle Real was closed from El Capitan State Beach to Refugio Road.

As of 9:20 p.m. Thursday — the CHP reported on its traffic information page — small yet concerning fires were on the eastbound side of the freeway. At about 9:15 p.m., the CHP reported members of the media were advised of the dangers of staying near El Capitan State Beach’s freeway onramp, but news vans refused to leave. Late Thursday night, the fire remained about the same size it was that morning. It was still zero percent contained.

The Sheriff’s Office issued mandatory evacuations in effect for El Capitan, Calle Lippizaner (just east of El Cap), Refugio, Venadito, and Las Flores canyons, as well as El Capitan State Beach and ranch and Refugio State Beach. “If you are in any of these areas, you should leave immediately,” Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Kelly Hoover said in a press release. Over 420 phone lines in those areas received the county’s notification alerts, said Sheriff Bill Brown at a Thursday press conference at Dos Pueblos High School.

Areas in evacuation warning zones — where residents were advised to gather their belongings — include Canada de la Destiladera, Las Llagas, Gato, Las Varas, Dos Pueblos, and Eagle canyons. Wind advisories were issued through the morning.

Fulfilling earlier concerns, the fire, pushed by evening winds, crept toward ExxonMobil’s Las Flores Canyon crude oil processing unit. Reuters reported Wednesday the facility’s non-essential personnel were evacuated while the rest were involved in fire protection activities.

As for air quality concerns, the county’s Public Health Department recommends people close their doors and windows as heat permits. A similar warning was issued for Ventura County.

Trains resumed after being stopped last night from traveling north of Goleta. Over 80 horses — 50 from the Circle Bar B Ranch — are staying at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the “live fuel moisture is where it normally is in early August.” Living plants in the foothills are as low in moisture as they would be at close to the height of summer — e.g., twigs snapping instead of bending.

Forecasters predict winds to be light Saturday through early next week. The threat Saturday, though, is higher temperatures. From Sunday to Monday, temperatures are predicted to jump 5-10 degrees each day, with Monday and Tuesday being the hottest days. Away from the coast, temps are predicted to be as high as 110 degrees, the center reported. Beginning Sunday, it is expected to be very dry — with afternoon humidity in the single digits. The weather will likely cool during the second half of next week, with temperatures still above normal.

At 11 a.m. Friday morning, authorities will hold a second press conference at Dos Pueblos High School.


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