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Brush fire explodes to 6,000 acres near Santa Barbara, closes 101 Freeway

Evacuations have been ordered, as 0 percent of fire has been contained.
Flames light up the night sky Monday as the Alisal fire in California grew to thousands of acres.
Flames light up the night sky Monday as the Alisal fire in California grew to thousands of acres. [ AL SEIB | Los Angeles Times ]
Published Oct. 12

LOS ANGELES — A brush fire that broke out Monday afternoon north of Santa Barbara has exploded in size, burning 6,000 acres in less than a day and shutting down the 101 Freeway as firefighters struggle to contain the growing blaze.

Evacuations have been ordered amid gusty conditions that drove the flames through rough terrain that hadn’t burned in decades. On Tuesday morning, the blaze — dubbed the Alisal fire — was 0% contained.

The fire started at 2:30 p.m. Monday near the Alisal Reservoir, fire officials said. Strong winds pushed the fire south toward Tajiguas Landfill and the 101 Freeway.

Spreading flame prompted officials to shut down the 101 between Pacific Coast Highway and Winchester Canyon/Cathedral Oaks Road around 5:30 p.m., according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire eventually crossed the freeway and made its way to Tajiguas Beach, fire officials said. The freeway remained closed in both directions Tuesday morning.

Strong winds with sustained speeds of 30 to 35 mph and gusts of up to 70 mph posed the greatest concern to firefighters overnight.

“The fire is burning in dense chaparral and is being pushed by strong winds and growing at a rapid rate of speed,” Los Padres National Forest officials said. “Smoke is visible throughout southern Santa Barbara County including the Santa Ynez Valley and along the Gaviota coastline.”

Much of Santa Barbara County remained under a high wind warning through Tuesday morning, officials said.

The winds also prevented aircraft from taking a more active role in fighting the fire. While ground crews were in place, high winds prevented aircraft carrying water or flame retardant from taking off.

Evacuation orders were in effect for residents in Refugio Canyon, including Arroyo Hondo, Tajiguas and Arroyo Quemada. The order was expanded to include El Capitan State Park and the El Capitan Campground.

An evacuation warning was in place north of El Capitan Campground and east to Dos Pueblos Canyon.

Firefighters believe the Alisal fire threatens as many as 100 structures, including ranches and homes.

Andrew Madsen, a spokesman for the Los Padres National Forest, said gusty winds drove the Alisal fire, whipping up embers and causing spot fires, which then spread rapidly.

“A couple hundred” firefighters were on scene or on their way as of early Monday night, Madsen said. Resource orders are in place for another 200 firefighters, who are expected to arrive overnight.

Crews are concentrating on protection of homes and other structures, he said.

In addition to strong wind, the amount of available fuel concerns firefighters.

Madsen said it’s believed the last time the area burned was during the 1955 Refugio fire, which tore through nearly 80,000 acres.

But crews could have some luck on their side.

The Alisal fire appears to be moving to the southeast. If that movement continues, it’ll run into the burn scar left by the 2016 Sherpa fire, Madsen said, giving crews a chance to better control and contain the blaze.