Helicopters continue to douse hot spots near Mariposa Reina on Friday, October 15. | Credit: Mike Eliason/S.B. County Fire Dept.

On Friday evening, incident commanders described the Alisal Fire to be 16,901 acres and 41 percent containment, unchanged from the morning. The calm winds allowed 19 aircraft to attack the fire to such an extent that evacuation orders were canceled for Arroyo Quemada Lane. Also canceled Friday evening was the evac warning for the area on the fire’s eastern flank: between El Capitan State Park and Dos Pueblos Canyon Road, aka Naples, from West Camino Cielo down to the ocean.

The most active section today was in the corner of Gaviota closest to the 101 headed toward Lompoc, but hot spots smoldered deep in the canyons, sending up “smokes” from interior pockets of heat that helicopters were zeroing in on, said Kristen Allison with Orange County Fire.

On the Alisal Fire map, much of the central portions are now colored black, indicating that firefighters have those sections well in hand, either because of a soaking with fire retardant along West Camino Cielo or the “Great Pacific Fuel Break,” otherwise known as the ocean, as County Fire Battalion Chief Chris Childers called it at the Friday morning briefing.

A Santa Barbara County Fire dozer cuts a fuel break on a hillside near Mariposa Reina. | Credit: Mike Eliason/S.B. County Fire Dept.

Childers is an operational chief in the new, larger Type 1 interagency management team (acronym CIIMT) now managing Alisal. The fire was still active on Friday, but conditions had improved so much that Childers hazarded that morning that the fire could be out “in the next few days.”

The winds stayed calm on Friday, and air tankers, including the giant DC-10, laid down retardant to block the fire until about 1:30 p.m., when they returned to the Santa Maria Airport, having completed their tasks for the day. Helicopters were in heavy use, dropping water and retardant, and three of the biggest are part of SoCal Edison’s Quick Response Force, explained Captain Daniel Bertucelli, spokesperson for County Fire. The Chinook and two Sikorsky choppers are based at Santa Barbara Airport, as well as a spotter aircraft and a PhosChek mixer.

Operated by fire agencies from Ventura, Orange, and Los Angeles counties, the helicopters worked overnight — and will again tonight — dropping thousands of gallons at a time, undeterred by winds or the dark of night. “They’re a game changer,” said Andrew Madsen, a Forest Service spokesperson. “They hit at night when the fire lays down.” Two of the helicopters have 3,000-gallon tanks that can quench a fire with precision.

Santa Barbara County’s Firehawk, refurbished from a National Guard Blackhawk earlier this year, is still being tested until it’s able to be deployed, Bertucelli said.

Along the highway and roads up canyons, Edison workers were replacing burned telephone poles, some of which were still smoldering, Madsen said.

S.B. County’s Office of Emergency Management notes that the evacuation center at Dos Pueblos High School has been put on a “warm/standby status.”

The Refugio area is still under an evacuation order, and evacuation warnings are still in place west of the fire toward the Gaviota Pass and across the Hollister Ranch. Because of the fire, the Coastal Commission meeting to discuss access to the Hollister Ranch that was scheduled for October 14 was moved to “the earliest possible date in November.”

The weather, as always, may be the deciding factor in the Alisal Fire. Santa Ana winds blowing across Los Angeles and Ventura have raised red flag warnings in those counties. Drizzle is expected in San Luis Obispo, according to the National Weather Service forecast. Santa Barbara, however, will have both higher humidity and slower winds to avoid the red flag, said Eric Boldt of the NWS, and shouldn’t get much beyond a light rain a week from now. A trough is digging in over the Pacific, forcing the jet stream to the north, the forecast reads, adding, “get used to this sentence as La Nina will help repeat this pattern all winter.”

Find all our updates on the Alisal Fire here.

In case you’ve ever wondered how air tankers fill up with water, here’s two of them at Lake Cachuma on Friday afternoon, continuing to fight the Alisal Fire. | Credit: Jim Kunkle

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