The Rey Fire
Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara’s Rey Fire nearly quadrupled in size overnight, growing from about 2,700 acres to more than 10,000. At the same time, containment estimates for the fire were cut in half, dropping from 20 percent yesterday to 10 percent this morning. While such numbers are stark, the good news is that the fire is growing to the north and the east, heading away from populated coastal areas and into the steep, forbidding peaks and ravines of the Los Padres National Forest and Santa Barbara’s backcountry.

Even so, Mike Eliason, spokesperson for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, warned that as temperatures rise and the winds pick up, Santa Barbara residents should brace themselves for ominous large plumes of smoke billowing over the horizon. “We got a ton of calls yesterday,” he said. “In the morning, when it’s still relatively cool, the fire hangs low. But in the afternoon, people can expect to see lots of smoke.” Eliason attributed the rapid rate of growth to historic low moisture levels in the back country because of the record-breaking drought. “It’s unprecedented,” he said.

Should the winds shift direction and push the fire back on itself, Eliason said, it would encounter brush and fuel that’s already burned. But if that shift were to happen at the very north-eastern point of the Rey Fire — landmarked by a place called Old Man Mountain — that might be cause for concern. In anticipation, he said, firefighters have been focusing their efforts on that area, dispatching hand crews, dozer brigades, helicopters, and winged air craft. That area, he noted, is located 60 miles from Goleta as the crow flies. The closest the fire has gotten to populated areas is by Sage Hill and the White Rock campground, where the fire originated. Eliason said the cause of the fire has yet to be confirmed, but that it appears it might have been caused by downed power lines at White Rock.

As the fire has expanded in size, he said, the lines of containment have shrunk in relative proportion to the whole. As of this morning, he said, the fire was 10 percent contained, as opposed to the 20 percent reported yesterday. The lines of containment, he noted, were by Sage Hill and White Rock, where the fire started. It’s also the area closest to human habitation. Eliason said the evacuation orders for Paradise Road remain in effect. Yesterday, he said, campers were allowed back to the closed camp-grounds to retrieve tents and other possessions they were forced to leave behind when the fire broke out two days ago. Today, Eliason said, residents who live in the area would be allowed to get belongings out of their homes. (View Ray Ford’s photos here here.)

Even with six major fires raging throughout California — requiring the assistance of 10,000 firefighters — Eliason said the Rey Fire has been able to secure the aircraft firefighters have requested. “They’re already in the air,” he said. “They can be revectored here from other fires, so they don’t need a cold-engine, wheels up start.” He said that four-to-six fixed-wing aircraft have been secured for today’s fire-fighting activities, though as of this writing, only two had actually been dispatched. He said a DC-10 would also be deployed at some point today, to paint thick red lines of chemical retardant on strategic areas.

Given the volatility of the fire and roughness of the steep terrain, no hand crews and dozers were dispatched into the back country last night. To date, three firefighters have been injured; one was heat related, one was for bee stings, and one was for a minor leg injury.

Anyone seeking updated information is advised to call (805) 364-2738.


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