[Update, 10:40 p.m.]: The fire has grown to 600 acres, with 20 percent containment. Into the late night hours on Thursday, officials said, weather conditions remained good. The county's Joint Information Center closed, but will reopen at 6 a.m. on Friday if necessary. The shelter at San Marcos High School closed while the one at Santa Ynez High School stayed open.
[Update, 8:53 p.m.]: Highway 154 is now open in both directions. Paradise Road remains closed.
[Update, 6:49 p.m.]: At about 6:30 p.m., Santa Barbara County Fire spokesperson Mike Eliason reported that the fire was holding at about 500 acres with zero percent containment. Currently, 200 personnel are on scene. Twenty-five engines, four hand crews, two dozers, three water tenders, four air tankers, and one DC-10 responded, with more resources on the way.
“It has been burning north and west away from the Santa Ynez riverbed,” Eliason said, “which is a good thing. The further it burns out to country and the winds shift, the bigger the black box it is going to be to burn back on itself.” Like last night, humidity is expected to go up, he said.
Though Eliason stated it was still under investigation, the fire started at the White Rock campground, near where an oak tree fell, knocking over power lines.
Three hundred people along the Paradise Road corridor have been evacuated as well as another 300 from Los Prietos Boys Camp. Two evacuation centers, including San Marcos High School (4750 Hollister Ave.) and Santa Ynez High School (2975 E. Hwy 246) were set up. For assistance with animal evacuations, residents can call (805) 681-4332.
Highway 154 remains shut down except for residents. Santa Barbara County and Los Padres National Forest formed a Unified Command. The county’s Emergency Operations Center has not been activated.
[Update, 4:54 p.m.]: The fire has grown to 300 acres. Highway 154 is now closed in both directions between Highway 246 at the roundabout near Santa Ynez and Cathedral Oaks/SR 192 in Santa Barbara. There is no estimate when it will reopen. Motorists traveling in both directions are being directed to Highway 101 as a detour. All campsites have been cleared of visitors.
[Update, 4:41 p.m.]:"The good news is the fire is burning a lot of brush," says reporter Ray Ford. "If it did shift, it wouldn't have fuel." Ford estimated the winds were currently blowing at 20 mph. He said at least two jets, 30-40 fire engines each with five-person crews, and several small planes have responded. "At this point, Santa Barbara is not in danger," Ray said. "That could change if the winds shift."
[Update, 4:29 p.m.]: The incident has been officially named the Rey Fire, for Rancho San Fernando Rey near where the blaze began. Some of the ranch's buildings are under threat. They are the only structures currently at risk. Multiple downed power lines have been reported in the area. Firefighting personnel continue to arrive on the scene.
[Original Report]: Firefighters are rushing to a fast-spreading 100-acre brush fire off Paradise Road near the White Rock Day Use Area. The call came in at 2:59 p.m. and multiple engine crews and aircraft have been dispatched to the area, said Mike Eliason, spokesperson for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
Eliason encouraged motorists to avoid Highway 154. He said flames were visible from the intersection of the highway and Paradise Road. Officials are considering closing the 154, according to emergency radio communications. Evacuations have been ordered for the Paradise Road campgrounds and the Los Prietos Boys Camp.
It's currently 97 degrees in the area with 4 percent humidity. Independent outdoors reporter Ray Ford is at the scene and said winds are blowing north at 5-15 mph. Ford said the fire is on the north side of the Santa Ynez river and is moving up toward the San Rafael Wilderness and away from Paradise Road. He said the blaze appears to have started in the White Rock Day Use Area in the Los Padres National Forest, where the 2013 White Fire originated before spreading to 2,000 acres.
U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Andrew Madsen, who just got back from three weeks on the Soberanes Fire in Big Sur, said firefighting "resources are at a premium right now." Eliason said County Fire and the Forest Service, the two lead firefighting agencies for the incident, are directing their personnel from other fires in the state to Santa Barbara. A water-dropping helicopter is currently collecting loads from Lake Cachuma.
Photographer Mehosh Dziadzio, who lives not too far from where the fire is burning, said it started close to cabins on the Santa Ynez River, but the wind pushed it across the water and toward Sage Hill. It's hot, and the wind is changing direction constantly; the fire is creating its own winds, too, bearing down-canyon at about 20 mph, Dziadzio estimated. Helicopters are dropping water, and orange powder from fire retardant drifted onto Dziadzio as he spoke.
Check back for updates.