A fire is reported burning one mile up Refugio Road in heavy fuels and was about 10-20 acres in size as of approximately 4:37 p.m. County Fire is responding and trying to gain access to the area, according to Capt. Dave Zaniboni, spokesperson for County Fire. Air resources have been requested, and fire crews are coming from the Rey Fire to attack what is being called the Bar Incident. The weather station in upper Refugio Canyon indicates wind speeds over 30 mph, though winds appear calmer at the coast.
[UPDATE: 6 p.m.]: Capt. Zaniboni reports the fire is just east of Refugio Canyon and burning in Venadito Canyon. Few structures are in the area, and no evacuations have been ordered.
[UPDATE: 7:30 p.m.]: Smoke continues to rise, but the fire seems to be dying back, Refugio resident Janet Erro told The Santa Barbara Independent by telephone. Two to four drops by the air tankers pelted the landscape with retardant, she said, and helicopters continue to drop water as nightfall approaches. A breeze has come up from the north, but overall the evening is cool, the wind is mild, and the fire is surrounded by fire crews. A neighbor at Venadito Canyon Ranch told her that electricity just came back on around 7:30 p.m.
[UPDATE: 8:30 p.m.]: As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, public information officers with the County of Santa Barbara and the County Fire Department declared that the Bar Fire that erupted earlier this afternoon near Refugio was in the mop-up stages. “They killed it,” said county public information officer Gina DePinto. “We lucked out this time,” echoed her counterpart with County Fire, Mike Eliason.
The lucky part was two-fold: first, the winds have been relatively light, ranging from 6 to 12 mph. To the extent the fire was moving at all, it headed up into the canyon and away from the ocean. The other major stroke of luck was that a team of five engines and a battalion chief from Long Beach just happened to be driving by the fire as it was initially called in. Wednesday was their day off from fighting the Rey Fire. They launched into action and helped defend a structure that might otherwise have been vulnerable. That initial contact gave crews a chance to reign in the blaze before it got out of control.
Santa Barbara County Fire dispatched five engines as well, plus a strike team. The Forest Service also sent along resources. Although reports vary, at least one helicopter and two air tankers were “revectored” from the Rey Fire and are now helping put out hot spots with the aid of heat sensitive cameras. Had the Rey Fire not engaged such a massive response, the planes, helicopters, and out-of-town engines would not have been so readily available.
The cause of the fire remains uncertain, though Eliason did say some kind of lines were down in the area, though it was not clear if they were phone lines or power lines. He said crews would stay on the fire through the evening to make sure hot spots don’t flare up. Fuels, he said, ranged from waist high to shoulder high. Night winds in the canyons north and west of El Capitan are notoriously volatile.
At no time, Eliason said, was the oil and gas processing facility in Las Flores Canyon threatened. The action from the Bar Fire took place in Venadito Canyon. “That’s one canyon over from Las Flores, where the processing plant is.” An initial evacuation notice was quickly downgraded and residents are being allowed back in their homes.