The hills above Goleta burned out of control for a third day today, and in a major setback, flames jumped West Camino Cielo, a roadway off Hwy 154 firefighters had hoped to use as a firebreak.
Officials say there is no end in sight to the inferno, which is feeding on dense, tall chaparral fuel on hillsides, which have not seen flame since the 1950s. Despite firefighters’ best efforts — including a massive aerial assault on the hilly, rocky terrain — the fire doubled in size last night to 2,400 acres. The burn has threatened various homes and caused a shutdown of northbound roads between Glen Annie Golf Club and Fairview Avenue. Today, the inferno jumped W. Camino Cielo off Hwy 154, threatening even more residences and causing further evacuations, and the City of Goleta cancelled tomorrow’s annual fireworks show.
Meanwhile, Isla Vista residents and the UCSB campus were afflicted with various fallout effects of the blaze. Yesterday evening, groups of people gathered in the street to watch the ash rain down — “It’s California snow,” one man said to his female companion as she covered her nose with a cloth. Flames could even be seen from Del Playa balconies facing the mountainside.
The blaze caused sweeping power outages all along the South Coast between Carpinteria and Isla Vista. The fire continues to threaten power lines, and residents are advised that further outages are likely. Southern California Edison spokesperson Lois Pitter Bruce said the outage, which began at about 7:15 p.m., was a result of dense smoke interrupting power transmission into an electrical substation.
While some I.V. residents packed up their cars and left town, many of those who stayed behind indulged in an evening of revelry. As power came and went intermittently, thirsty students rushed to Keg N’ Bottle, feverishly stocking up on thirty packs while cash registers worked. Most I.V. businesses shut their doors as a result of the outage, but some stayed open into the night by the light of lanterns, including Freebirds.
The darkness was lifted periodically by the burst of fireworks, and some students ironically started couch fires. Isla Vista Foot Patrol Sgt. Erik Raney said this put additional stress on the already overtaxed county fire system.
“Those resources are needed on the Gap Fire,” Raney said. “When students and residents out here choose to celebrate in that fashion, they’re putting people in jeopardy.”
According to Raney, there were no arrests. However, he said that enforcement would be harsh over the holiday weekend. Possession of fireworks, even the “safe and sane” variety, is illegal in Santa Barbara County.
“We have a firm posture that if you’re caught with fireworks, at minimum you’ll be issued a citation, and if it’s egregious enough, you’ll be taken to jail,” Raney said. “If you’re using them and you start a fire, that’s arson.”
Additionally, the City of Goleta and the Rotary Club of Goleta have decided to cancel their annual fireworks display, citing public safety concerns. Downtown Santa Barbara’s popular West Beach show, however, is scheduled to proceed as planned.
Most electrical service was restored by 10 p.m. yesterday evening, while some areas of Isla Vista, including the loop, were down until about 9 a.m. this morning. Meanwhile, the fire doubled in size overnight.
Santa Barbara County firefighters have been attempting to contain the blaze with an arsenal that includes four helicopters and four air tankers dropping fire retardant on the extreme terrain. The fire, which is being fought in conjunction with at least five other agencies from around the state, is considered zero percent contained as of press time.
Rosa Martinez-Sotelo, a Fire Information Officer with the Los Padres National Forest, said that the jump of West Camino Cielo has triggered an immediate response.
“Mandatory evacuations were issued at 4 p.m. for Haney Tract and Kinevan Road. We have also extended evacuation warnings to the Trout Club and Hidden Valley areas.”
County Fire Chief Tom Franklin assured the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in a meeting yesterday that the Gap Fire is California’s number one priority. The supervisors met to confirm a state of emergency declared last night — a move that will clear the way for quicker aid from state emergency officials.
Efforts to quell the spreading fire continue into the night. Martinez-Sotelo said that thus far, 350 people have been assigned to tackle the blaze. As of yet, there are no reports of any injuries incurred fighting the fire.
“The terrain is very rocky and steep. And unfortunately it’s burning old, heavy chaparral,” Martinez-Sotelo said. “For a fire that just started the other day, [firefighters are staging] a fairly heavy attack.”