New areas were ordered evacuated in Goleta as shifting weather conditions pushed the Whittier fire westward, pushing up a huge plume of smoke that prompted drivers to stop on Highway 101 to take photographs, leading to backed-up traffic, officials said.
Meanwhile, firefighters were making progress on the Alamo fire near Santa Maria and were nearing 100-percent containment Friday.
The Whittier fire has charred 13,199 acres, and with only 52 percent of the blaze contained, the unified command stepped up the attack Friday, bringing in additional resources and adding more aerial assaults on the fire lines.
“Santa Barbara County has a fire history that is notorious for life and structure loss,” County Fire Chief Eric Peterson said Friday afternoon, adding firefighters had carved out hundreds of miles of firelines and dropped thousands of gallons of retardant.
“The one thing we don’t do is control the weather,” he said. “If the wind picks up enough, the fire will spot ahead and spread.”
But he said the unified command had increased resources significantly for the Sundowner winds expected to hit Friday evening.
A total of 1,240 firefighters are assigned to the fire — 23 hand crews, six hotshot teams and five strike teams with 92 fire engines, 16 bulldozers, 23 water tenders and 12 helicopters, including one night flier.
Jimmy Harris, deputy fire chief for Los Padres National Forest, said firefighters had not been able to gain a good foothold on the south slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains due to the rugged terrain.
“This area hasn’t burned in 62 years,” Harris said, the last time being the Refugio fire that charred the area in 1955.
A variety of air tankers are being used, and Harris said two of the big CL-415 Super Scoopers had been brought in and were picking up water from Cachuma Lake
“We’ve prepped the structures, the ranches and groves with an indirect line,” he said of the Goleta areas where evacuations were ordered as the fire worked its way down the south slope of the Santa Ynez Mountains above the canyons west of Goleta.
Friday afternoon, the County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuations in the following areas:
• Paradise Canyon Road from Highway 154 east to the first river crossing;
• All of Winchester Canyon Road, excluding the community of Wagon Wheel, Langlo Ranch Road and Winchester Commons west to El Capitan Ranch Road;
• Calle Real north to West Camino Cielo from Winchester Canyon Road on the east to El Capitan Ranch Road on the west;
• Farren and Las Varas Canyon roads; and,
• West Camino Cielo at Highway 154 to Winchester Gun Club and Kinevan Road.
Highway 101 remained open, but officials noted the huge plume of smoke was causing traffic headaches along the highway.
“There are several reports of motorists stopping on roads and highways to view the fire,” Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said. “The increased traffic on Highway 101 due to the closure of Highway 154 and the slowing due to motorists looking at the fire is causing significant delays.”
She advised drivers to avoid Highway 101 if possible.
Los Padres National Forest officials also issued an order closing the Whittier fire area to the public effective Saturday.
U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers will strictly enforce the closure order, a Los Padres spokesman said. Violating the order carries a penalty of $5,000 and/or six months in jail.
The order will expire when the Whittier fire is fully contained and controlled, the spokesman said.
The American Red Cross is operating an evacuation center located at San Marcos High School, 4750 Hollister Ave. in Goleta.
The center will accept small pets for those who are temporarily residing there, and the Santa Barbara Humane Society is also available to assist evacuees with small animals, Hoover said.
For large animal evacuations, call the Animal Services hotline at 681-4332. Large animals are being accepted at Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara.
As for the Alamo fire, county officials said crews made good progress constructing and maintaining lines Thursday night, bringing containment to 92 percent with 28,687 acres burned.
On Friday, firefighters continued to strengthen established containment lines, reduce hot spots in the interior and patrol those areas.
An evacuation warning remained in place for residents in Tepusquet Canyon.
Although Highway 166 is open, Tepusquet Road from the highway to Santa Maria Mesa Road is only open to residents, the spokesman said.