Lower temperatures and calmer conditions this weekend gave firefighters battling the Jesusita Fire a much-needed advantage after the city fire chief told reporters Friday that “last night, all hell broke loose.”
As of Sunday, the fire was 65 percent contained with full containment possible as soon as Wednesday, officials said. Thousands of evacuees were allowed to return home yesterday, and only a fraction of the roughly 30,000 residents forced to flee remain under mandatory evacuation orders. In total, 77 homes have been destroyed, 22 have been damaged and an estimated 8,700 acres have burned.
Approximately 4,500 personnel – encompassing 509 engines and 109 crews – were on the scene, and 18 firefighters have been reported injured.
The cause of the fire — which originated near the Jesusita Trailhead — is currently under investigation, and the county estimates the cost of fighting the blaze is $9 million to date. Much of that cost will be covered by federal and state funds, though some of it will inevitably fall on the county and city of Santa Barbara.
The fire broke out Tuesday afternoon and grew quickly as strong sundowner winds and hot, dry conditions fueled the flames. The blaze was at its worst Thursday night, though, prompting Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Andrew DiMizio to claim all hell had broken loose.
Over the weekend, however, cooler temperatures and dramatically calmer winds aided the firefighting efforts, allowing firefighters to “go on the offensive,” one official said. The fire was only 10 percent contained as of Friday morning.
The majority of the mandatory evacuation orders were downgraded to an evacuation warning Sunday morning, leaving only 350 people under mandatory evacuation. However, 3,850 properties – roughly 9,600 people – remain under an evacuation warning. Additionally, Highway 154 between Calle Real and Paradise Road is closed to the public.
In another sign of improving conditions, the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District reduced air quality warnings to an air quality watch on Saturday, but the American Red Cross continued to distribute facemasks from their headquarters on State Street.
Despite the improvement, county officials continue to encourage residents to conserve water in order to maintain water levels in the reservoirs for firefighting efforts.
Furthermore, concerns over Floatopia 2 – and the possibility it would divert county resources from the fire efforts – proved unnecessary since the Isla Vista beach party did not take place Saturday. Although county resources were made available in anticipation of Floatopia, only a handful of people spent the day at the beach.
Cory Kirchner said the combination of the fire, last week’s urgency ordinance banning alcohol on the Isla Vista Beach and the recent anti-Floatopia sentiment contributed to his decision not to partake in Floatopia 2.
“I had a couple friends that didn’t come,” Kirchner, an undeclared first-year said. “I just told them they were canceling Floatopia and [about] the fires. [Plus] all the Facebook messages telling me, ‘don’t do it, don’t do it.'”
Lt. Olmstead of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol said he was proud that students chose not to participate in the event.
“We used the resources we had planned for Floatopia as part of resources that were assigned to control the evacuation areas,” Olmstead said. “We had them available if Floatopia did happen, but I’m impressed with the students and the people who chose to forego Floatopia for other activities that didn’t use public resources.”