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[Correction: According to Santa Barbara County Fire Department Public Information Officer, Captain David Sadecki, the fire was fully contained as of 6 p.m. Friday, a cause has still not been identified.]
At approximately 9:40 p.m. last night a brush fire broke out at Coal Oil Point, burning through about 20 acres of reserve land and threatening one residence which had to be evacuated. Although no structures have been damaged the fire continues to burn with about 70 percent containment reported this morning.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, however, Santa Barbara County Fire Department received reports of a possible transformer explosion and firework discharge in the area prior to the start of the blaze. A person of interest was also contacted by law enforcement, although no details have been released. Full containment has been estimated for 6 p.m. this evening.
Personnel from Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Santa Barbara City Fire Department, UCPD, Vandenberg Fire Department and the Sheriff’s Office responded throughout the night.
A number of research projects are conducted at Coal Oil Point by UCSB’s Marine Science Institute, including research on endangered shorebirds, an assessment of Devereux Lagoon and the Gray Whale Count, among others. According to reserve director Cristina Sandoval, some project plots were burned by the fire, but its effects on specific research studies have not yet been determined. Sandoval also said the wetland area of the reserve sustained some damage but several important species escaped damage including the western snowy plover, an endangered shorebird, and the Ventura marsh milk-vetch, a small, endangered perennial plant native only to the California central coast.
According to Sandoval the fire may actually be beneficial for certain habitats on the reserve by clearing away dead vegetation and encouraging new growth.
“Overall the fire may be a good way to remove the dead shrubs and open space for new vegetation. Many of the plants that grow here are adapted to fire, particularly the native bunch grass,” Sandoval said in an email. “We haven’t talked to each researcher yet to find out if this will impact their research.”
Andy MacDonald, a graduate student with the Riparian InVasion Research Lab of the Marine Science Institute studying the ecology of tick-borne diseases, said while the wildfire did disturb several of his sites, it may provide an interesting opportunity to further his research on local tick populations.
“I don’t think it should [slow down my research] but others who might be doing research on plant communities there or other things like that it may be more of an issue for them but its sort of a natural disturbance in this part of California anyway,” MacDonald said. “So trying to understand what effect it might have on, whether its ticks for me or plants for others it might actually be pretty interesting.”
This story is a Daily Nexus online exclusive.