Fire Erupts near Midnight Along Goleta’s Atascadero Creek

Santa Barbara Man Arrested for Suspected Arson in Connection to Fire Near Ward Drive

Credit: Scott Safechuck | Santa Barbara County Fire Department

[Update: Nov. 8, 2022, 8 a.m.] The Ward Incident fire was 100 percent contained as of Saturday afternoon, per the County Fire Department.

[Update: Nov. 3, 2022, 2:30 p.m.]  The suspect detained at last night’s fire along Atascadero Creek was arrested on a charge of arson, the Sheriff’s Office reported.

At about 11:40 p.m. on Wednesday, November 2, deputies and County Fire arrived at a brush fire across the creek from the end of Ward Drive in Goleta. A witness on the bike path near Patterson Road gave a description of the suspect who reportedly started the fire. Close to midnight, deputies located a man fitting the description, Jose Martin Alvarez-Castro, 30, of Santa Barbara, who was arrested for felony arson, misdemeanor obstruction of a peace officer, and misdemeanor possession. He is in county jail on $20,000 bail.

Deputies also warned neighbors along More Ranch Road of the fire, remaining on site until the evacuation warning was lifted at 5 a.m. on Thursday.

The fire, which is called the Ward Incident, is 75 percent contained and under investigation by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

[Original Story] A fire started on the south bank of Atascadero Creek near La Goleta Gas Field around midnight last night. Near the south end of Ward Drive in Goleta, the Ward Fire was wind-driven in cold temps and good humidity, with embers spotting up to a quarter-mile out to More Ranch Road, said County Fire spokesperson Captain Scott Safechuck. About 85 firefighters from multiple agencies were quickly on the scene and able to slow the spread of the fire, controlling the fire’s perimeter to keep it out of the gas field.

Beyond the below-ground gas field is More Ranch Road, whose residents were under an evacuation warning during the night. That warning was lifted by 5 a.m.

One suspect was detained at the site of the fire by Sheriff’s deputies, Safechuck said. The Sheriff’s Office did not respond immediately about why the person was detained.

The gusty winds sent the fire into the tops of the 100-foot-tall eucalyptus trees along the creekbank and growing up to the perimeter of the gas field. “The fire behavior last night was really interesting,” Safechuck said. “We did not have hot temperatures or low relative humidity levels, and the majority of the fire was up in the crown of the trees. When a lot of the fire activity is high in the trees, they’re really dangerous.”

The danger from the eucs burned at the base with fire active in the canopy and snags above is in the falling branches, called “widow-makers,” said Safechuck, and firefighters worked carefully on the edges of the fire last night. This morning the crew is chainsawing the trees to control the embers.

Heavy winds and the dark of night prevented the fire department’s Firehawk helicopter from taking part in the suppression effort. The fire was estimated to be at one acre when crews arrived last night and grew to about nine acres this morning. About 50 firefighters are working the fire currently, which is estimated to be 50 percent contained.

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