With humidity up and temperatures down, overnight Sunday was fairly quiet for the Whittier Fire, according to incident officials at this morning’s briefing at the command post at Dos Pueblos High School. With 18,311 acres burned and containment back up to 49 percent, the fire continues to slowly creep downslope along the western, southern, and eastern edges, while crews continue mop-up and monitor the fire’s northern boundary, much of which is pinched between Highway 154 and Cachuma Lake. Highway 154 was reopened late Sunday afternoon, and evacuated campers have been allowed back into Cachuma Lake Recreation Area to retrieve any valuables they left behind as the fire sparked to life and grew rapidly on July 8.
Prominent among today’s goals is to button up what firefighting crews are calling Division B, essentially the Whittier’s easternmost edge, now burning rugged terrain in the Bear Creek drainage. “It’s very slow going,” said Pat Russell, part of a federal team running daily operations. “It’s very steep, with 10-foot-tall brush — brush that looks like trees. But we’re moving in on the last 3,000 feet of uncontrolled edge.” The fire has reached the bottom of Bear Canyon, but hasn’t yet crossed the creek. Among the structures staffed with fire crew is the historic Cold Spring Tavern, about a mile to the east, as the crow flies, from Bear Creek.
As crews prepared for the coming day shift — with temperatures expected to breach 90 degrees in the backcountry and stay about 10 degrees cooler along the ocean side of the mountains — Santa Barbara County Fire Department Division Chief Woody Enos urged firefighters to “close the door on [Division] B.” He also expressed similar optimism for containment efforts along Division Y, the fire’s northwestern flank.
As the fire’s southern edge remains active and open — though hindered by favorable weather — evacuation orders are still in place from Winchester Canyon to El Capitan Ranch roads, excluding the communities of Wagon Wheel, Langlo Ranch, and Winchester Commons. The evacuation orders affect the area between Calle Real and West Camino Cielo, including all roads and trails. Also, mandatory evacuation orders continue for West Camino Cielo at Highway 154 to Winchester Gun Club and Kinevan Road, and Rosario Park and all of Stagecoach Road.
As of this morning, more than 2,200 personnel were assigned to the Whittier, though officials said that number may drop as crews get reassigned to the presently out-of-control Detwiller Fire in Mariposa County, which forced evacuations overnight as it nearly tripled in size to 7,100 acres.
To get a handle on the massive damage to the watersheds above Twitchell Reservoir and Cachuma Lake from the Alamo and Whittier fires, Mona Miyasato, the county’s CEO and director of Emergency Services, declared a state of emergency on Sunday, which allowed Governor Jerry Brown to do the same, bringing state aid to the county. Combined, the Alamo and Whittier fires have been burning for 12 days, closing the county’s Cachuma Lake Recreation Area and threatening the electrical power grid that runs through the Whittier Fire zone. The declarations recognize that the burden of the fires has gone beyond the county’s ability to cope and allows the state to send assistance, including the National Guard and state Office of Emergency Services. It also waives the waiting period for unemployment benefits for those put out of work by the fires, and it waives the fees to replace items burned, like vehicle registrations or birth certificates. The County Board of Supervisors is expected to adopt the declaration formally on Tuesday.