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McMurray Fire Held at 200 Acres

Helicopters and 200 Firefighters Work to Douse Flames

About 200 firefighters remain on the McMurray Fire this morning, maintaining the containment line, which held at 200 acres overnight. The mandatory evacuation of nearby Ballard and Los Olivos lasted only a couple of hours as about 600 firefighters — from eight handcrews, three helicopters, five fixed-wing aircraft, and strike teams from San Luis Obispo, Ventura, and Santa Barbara, as well as Los Padres National Forest engine crews — rapidly laid down suppression lines. 

Firefighters worked to keep the fire below the hilltops, Santa Barbara County Fire spokesperson Mike Eliason explained, while winds pushed the fire uphill. Had it reached the hilltops, the higher winds up top could have fanned the flames, which naturally move downhill, into a race downhill toward neighborhoods. In an area dominated by small, two-lane roads, the quickly called evacuation order enabled people to leave calmly as smoke invaded the area. Eliason said residents should always simply leave if they feel a fire or smoke is uncomfortably close and not wait for an evacuation order.

The northbound lanes of Highway 101 also closed for about three hours, said Officer Kevin McCool of the California Highway Patrol’s Buellton office, after the fire started on Monday around 3:15 p.m., reopening by 6:30 p.m. One lane remains closed, however, as fire crews continue to move on and off the freeway as they put the fire out. McCool said there was no traffic backup and asked motorists to be careful around the emergency vehicles. About 13,000 customers lost power, said Pacific Gas & Electric spokesperson Mark Mesesen, likely due to the fire but as yet undetermined, and all were restored by 10 p.m.

The McMurray Fire started along the northbound 101 lanes in four separate spots, Eliason said, which investigators are inspecting. A second fire on nearby Highway 1 started a few minutes later, but was held to four acres and quickly extinguished. The area where the fire continues to burn contains deep folds in the terrain with pockets of dense vegetation, Eliason said. Helicopters continue to drop water on the fire, with the expectation of narrowing the fire’s grasp to 50 acres by nightfall, as long as the weather remains calm. Fixed-wing aircraft are on standby.

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