The Gap Fire, which burned through southern Santa Barbara County and made national headlines in early July, should now be 100 percent contained, fire department officials say.
The fire, which first ignited the afternoon of July 1, burned 9,443 acres just north of Goleta in the Santa Ynez foothills and was responsible for hundreds of evacuations. Gov. Schwarzenegger, who made an emergency visit to Santa Barbara July 5 for a briefing on the fire, declared it California’s top fire fighting priority for a time. Firefighters expect the fire to be fully contained as of today.
The SB County Fire Dept. said that there were 12 recorded injuries caused by the fire, and four minor structures destroyed. The delay in containment stemmed from both intense winds along the hillsides and difficult terrain for firefighters tasked with delivering supplies.
Initially a small fire, the Gap Fire grew from 200 to 3,000 acres in a matter of hours on the afternoon of Thursday, July 3, after a series of Santa Barbara’s notorious sundowner winds whipped through the hillsides. Sundowner winds refer to winds that typically blow down from the mountains, toward the ocean, come sunset. These sundowner winds proved troublesome for firefighters, who on multiple occasions during the first week awoke to see that the fire had doubled in size during the course of the night.
Additionally, these winds often pushed the flames closer to the northern edge of Goleta, prompting the county to issue thousands of voluntary evacuation orders.
The spreading flames burned under power lines that supplied Southern California Edison electricity to residential areas from Isla Vista to Montecito. The destruction of the Edison substation power lines, as well as accumulating ash on the lines, resulted in spontaneous outages.
It was also the sundowner winds that blew large plumes of smoke and ash into I.V. and Goleta and caused large chunks of ash to fall like snow. Many residents resorted to wearing sunglasses and handkerchiefs outside as a result of the heavy ash. A few days later, the same winds blew the majority of the smoke out to sea.
The city of Goleta was put on alert by July 3, and volunteer evacuation posts were opened up around the county to house precautionary evacuees. West Camino Cielo and Windemere Ranch were among the few mandatory evacuations in the county, but evacuation sites continued to stay open and operating in case of resurgence in wind gave the fire new life.
At its peak, over 1,100 firefighters from 28 states were combating the Gap Fire, using 87 fire engines, nine helicopters, ten air tankers and 15 bulldozers. The National Guard was called in to help combat the fire, and the American Red Cross had stations in Santa Barbara to help aid firefighters and others who were affected by the fire or the smoke.
Although the investigation is not complete, Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. officials believe the fire was started by human interference. Any information that could aid in the investigation can be called into the new 24-hour tip line that has been set up for the Gap Fire in Santa Barbara at (805) 961-5710.