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Gap Fire Timeline


Tuesday, July 1

5:32 p.m.: Vegetation fire reported at Windy Gap-erroneously, as Windy Gap is on the Santa Barbara side of San Marcos Pass. Once a fire is given a name it sticks, so it remained the Gap Fire.

5:44 p.m.: First helicopter, from Santa Barbara, drops water on fire, whose origin was in steep terrain near Lizard’s Mouth, in steep chaparral about four miles south of West Camino Cielo Road.

5:45 p.m.: First fixed-wing air tanker arrives, from Paso Robles, to drop fire retardant, followed by another 10 minutes later.

5:52 p.m.: Los Padres Forest Patrol 41 arrives on scene; the fire is moving south and downhill, winds are variable. When the sun goes down, a mild sundowner develops. Flame lengths of 12-15 feet, high temps, low humidities, very dry fuel. Patrol 41 and everyone on the scene know it has great potential.

6:10 p.m.: First Painted Cave Fire Department volunteers arrive on scene.

6-8 p.m.: A wild land fire crew stationed at Lake Cachuma arrives but can’t build a hand line until bulldozers arrive to establish an anchor point.

8 p.m.: Dozers arrive and start cutting a line directly downhill but are stopped by boulder fields. Hand crews start cutting a line in an attempt to flank the fire and prevent it from running back uphill.

10:15 p.m.: Evacuations ordered for Glen Annie and La Patera canyons.

Wednesday, July 2

6 a.m.: Crew moves back up to the road; heat and smoke become too intense. They are replaced by another engine crew.

7 a.m.: Helicopters start dropping water in a straight line downhill to cool and slow the fire so the hand crews can build more lines and prevent the eastern side of the fire from spreading toward San Marcos Pass/Highway 154.

10 a.m.: Fixed-wing planes start dropping retardant along the western flank of the fire. The goal is to contain the fire on either flank and let it run downhill into the ranchlands below.

1 p.m.: Erratic winds and east-west geographical features cause the fire to spread laterally east and west, escaping containment efforts.

2 p.m.: Smoke and flames are visible about 1,000 feet above the power lines in upper McCoy Canyon, directly above Glen Annie.

9 p.m.: Fire is burning in each of the canyons directly above the Edison power lines from La Patera to Glen Annie. Hundreds and hundreds of people are outdoors staring at the hills.

Thursday, July 3

Overnight: The fire hits the orchards-which extend all the way to the power lines-and is halted in the relatively wet trees and clear ground. Fire moves west into Ellwood Canyon.

Morning: Crews begin building 60-foot-wide fire breaks in upper Ellwood Canyon.

Afternoon: Crews backfire grass and brush to create a buffer between the fire and lower Ellwood Canyon. The Gap Fire is officially designated California’s number-one priority, entitling it to more firefighters and equipment. The City of Santa Barbara decides to proceed with its July 4th fireworks display.

5 p.m.: Fire has moved east as well, and 100-foot-tall flames can be seen in the foothills above upper Fairview Avenue. Diagonal wind is carrying the fire southeast along drainages toward North Patterson and east up into San Jose Creek Canyon. Evacuation orders issued in quick succession for Hidden Valley, the Trout Club, West Camino Cielo, West Kinevan Road, the Haney Tract, San Marcos Road to Glen Annie Road above Cathedral Oaks Road, and the northern Patterson Avenue neighborhoods.

8:30 p.m.: Winds at 40 mph and extremely heavy smoke create chaos as cars stream down from Old San Marcos Pass Road. Residents not allowed in except on foot. Engines are stationed at every house on Old San Marcos.

Friday, July 4

First light: Smoldering avocado and lemon trees on North Patterson ridgeline. Further uphill, engines guard the Trout Club. Half a dozen twin-rotor helicopters convey water along the edge of the fire and another half dozen fixed-wing aircraft drop retardant, while dozers cut a swatch 200 feet wide south of the Haney Tract, all in an effort to prevent the fire from climbing up to the Haney Tract or dropping into San Jose Canyon just below the Trout Club.

Mid afternoon: Fire flares up west Windemere and bumps West Camino Cielo Road for the first time. Crews have no problem putting out the flames there. Evacuation ordered for residents north of Cathedral Oaks Road between Ellwood Canyon Road and Farren Road.

End of evening: Things are looking good along the eastern edge. The dozer line below the Haney Tract is in place and there is just another quarter-mile of hand cutting to establish a containment line running from Windemere to San Jose Canyon.

10:48 p.m.: Evacuations ordered above Cathedral Oaks from Farren Road to Ellwood Canyon Road.

Saturday, July 5

Morning: S.B. County Fire Chief John Scherrei says he thought 100 homes would burn the previous night. Gov. Schwarzenegger visits.

All day: Crews finish handline to contain east end of fire. Engine crews are holding the upper edge from Windemere to Lizard’s Mouth, though flare-ups continue to challenge them.

Late afternoon: Dozers complete line down the Windy Gap Fuel Break and begin moving to the far western part of Camino Cielo. Some mandatory evacuation orders are downgraded to warnings for the first time.

Sunday, July 6

Morning: Montana’s Wally Bennett takes over as Gap Fire incident commander.

All day: Dozers start moving toward each other on San Marcos Road from nearby the Winchester Gun Club.

Afternoon: Firefighters set backfires and drop retardant to keep the fire from getting too close to West Camino Cielo, and start dozering and dropping retardant on Broadcast Peak. More evacuation orders are lifted.

Monday, July 7

All day: Crews continue to cut hand lines at the Trout Club, where temperatures reach 100 degrees. Engines still guard Winchester Canyon and Ellwood Canyon residences.

Tuesday, July 8

Morning: Gap Fire is declared 50 percent contained and grows only 110 acres overnight, the smallest rate of expansion yet. The only area still under mandatory evacuation orders is West Camino Cielo Road west of Windemere Ranch to the actual fire area.

Wednesday, July 9

Morning: Weather expected to be worst yet, with potenial for major uphill runs to the fuel break on the West Camino Road ridgeline, and over to the north side of the mountains. There is no danger of it returning to the parts of Goleta evacuated earlier, but there is no sure end in sight.



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