Rancho Alegre after the Whittier Fire Sunday, July 9, 2017.
Paul Wellman

Firefighters achieved yesterday’s goal of sealing off the Whittier Fire’s easternmost edge, in the steep and rocky Bear Creek drainage, located in the backcountry roughly between the Gun Club and Highway 154. More success was reported along what incident commanders are calling Division Y, the wildfire’s flank to the west-northwest. “We’re within a day or two of buttoning up Y,” operations official Pat Russell told several hundred firefighters at today’s 7 a.m. briefing. Russell said that as crews monitor the Bear Creek containment and ramp up suppression efforts in Division Y, bulldozers, hand crews, and aircraft will continue attacking the Whittier’s biggest uncontained expanse, roughly six miles — as the crow flies — of rugged, tough-to-access front country between El Capitan and Winchester canyons. This uncontrolled line runs high along the mountains several miles from Highway 101.

Whittier Fire map, July 18, 2017

Already, forward-thinkers on the ground are planning for what a wet winter could do to vast mountain slopes burned clean of vegetation, assessing erosion and catastrophic mudslide potential. In February, a particularly heavy storm created flash floods in canyons denuded by last summer’s Sherpa Fire, destroying historic ranch buildings in Las Flores Canyon and shutting down El Capitan Canyon campground for months.

As of this morning, Whittier Fire had burned 18,331 acres, up just 20 acres from yesterday. Containment remains at 62 percent.

New evacuation information was issued this morning, as well. The entire fire zone is off limits. For residents, evacuation orders are reduced to warnings for areas west of Goleta. West Camino Cielo from Winchester Gun Club west to Refugio Road is closed to all, but from the Gun Club east to 154, it is under an evacuation warning for residents. Cachuma Village also remains under an evacuation warning. Paradise Road is open; on Monday, the evacuation warning there was lifted.

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