The Alisal fire grew to 15,442 acres with 5% containment and kept Highway 101 closed Wednesday as air tanker operations resumed and the number of personnel fighting the blaze expanded to 1,200, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
The fire was reported shortly after 2 p.m. Monday near the area of West Camino Cielo and Refugio Road in the Santa Ynez Mountains, a short distance away from the Alisal Reservoir.
The fire quickly burned from the north side of the ridge and southward, toward the Pacific Ocean. Within three hours, the fire moved downslope until it crossed Highway 101 and reached the ocean, according to Los Padres National Forest Fire Chief Jimmy Harris.
Fixed-wing air tankers were initially suspended from flying Tuesday due to the wind, which at times reached up to 70 mph, although operations resumed later that afternoon.
Tankers have been able to drop retardant on the "upper end" of the fire, although aircraft have been unable to drop any along the east and west sides of the fire due to the high wind velocity, according to Matt Ferris, a Santa Barbara County Fire spokesman and deputy incident commander for the fire.
Over the next few days, County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said he expects to see the fire "seesaw" as the winds change, with an onshore flow Wednesday expected to push the fire farther up into the canyons.
"We expect that for weeks, if not months, you'll see fire crews out there putting out hot spots on this fire," Hartwig said.
The only injuries reported so far were those suffered by a big-rig driver whose truck caught fire Monday and a laceration a firefighter suffered from a chainsaw.
A "high priority" is to reopen the Highway 101 corridor and the railroad, Ferris added.
County Fire spokesman Capt. Mike Eliason said Caltrans workers on Wednesday were repairing guardrails damaged by the fire in order to reopen the highway.
Caltrans and California Highway Patrol officials closed a roughly 24-mile section of Highway 101 from the Highway 1 juncture at Las Cruces to Winchester Canyon/Cathedral Oaks roads until further notice.
Alternative routes include Highway 154 between Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley, and Interstate 5. According to Hartwig, the Highway 101 corridor is not expected to reopen until Thursday morning at the earliest.
"There's currently fire on both sides of the freeway," Hartwig said. "What California Highway Patrol would hate to do is open it and then have to close it again."
Crews from Cal Fire, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Kern and Ventura counties, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Montecito, Carpinteria, Vandenberg Space Force Base and the U.S. Forest Service have been battling the blaze. Additionally, five fixed-wing tankers and six water-dropping helicopters have been assigned to the fire.
Forest Service officials were expected to take command of firefighting resources by Wednesday evening, Ferris said.
Federal officials are expected to resume command of firefighting resources on Wednesday after the Alisal fire grew to more than 6,000 acres on Tuesday and with 0% containment, as gusty winds have impeded efforts to drop retardant from the air, according to a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.
Fueled by gusty winds and old-growth vegetation, the fire is located in a sparsely populated area between where the Gaviota fire in the early 2000s and the Sherpa fire in 2016 burned, and in an area that most likely hasn't experienced any fire activity since the 1955 Refugio fire, according to Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen.
The Tajiguas landfill is the only structure confirmed to have been damaged in the fire, including its anaerobic digester, the materials recycling facility and piping that carries methane gas, according to Hartwig.
The department is also investigating reports of other structures damaged by the fire in Refugio Canyon, which Hartwig said could be anything from sheds to residences.
Officials issued evacuation orders Monday evening for Arroyo Hondo Canyon and the area between El Capitan Beach State Park and West Camino Cielo.
An evacuation warning was issued Monday for the area east of El Capitan Beach State Park, west of Dos Pueblos Canyon Road, and south of West Camino Cielo.
An additional evacuation warning issued Tuesday includes the area east of Calle Mariposa Reina, west of Arroyo Hondo, and south of West Camino Cielo.
Eliason also urged residents to refrain from flying drones in the area of the Alisal fire after receiving reports of drone usage in the vicinity, stating they pose serious risks to firefighters and can impede the effectiveness of wildfire suppression operations.
An emergency evacuation center was established at Dos Pueblos High School, according to County Office of Emergency Management Director Kelly Hubbard. Evacuees needing assistance can contact the American Red Cross at 833-583-3111.
The Earl Warren Showgrounds has been established as an evacuation center for large animals, and County Animal Services is accepting small animals at 5473 Overpass Road in Goleta. For animal evacuation assistance, call 805-681-4332.
Updated incident information about the fire, including evacuation maps and road closure updates, is available at readysbc.org.