The Sherpa Fire burned for a fifth day near Goleta in Santa Barbara County, shooting smoke and ash into the air over much of the L.A. basin, and winds of 50 miles per hour were expected Sunday night, U.S. Forest Service officials said.
The Forest Service said at midmoring the fire was 45 percent contained and 7,811 acres have burned. Some 1,900 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire and Santa Barbara County Fire continue to battle the blaze while working under a unified command, said Nancy Arkin with the Forest Service.
Usually, when fighting brushfires, firefighters try to hold their fire lines during the day and extend containment during the nighttime hours when humidity rises and wind and temperatures drop, Arkin said. But the Sherpa firefighting effort has been the opposite, with lower humidity and Sundowner winds propelling the blaze after dark.
Sundowner conditions were expected to persist this weekend, with winds gusting to 50 mph, and firefighters worried about a forecast of lower humidity and higher winds tonight, according to the latest official fire report.
Two firefighters suffered minor injuries but have returned to the line, according to Santa Barbara County’s Joint Information Center. Also, 270 structures are being threatened by the blaze and one small water treatment building at El Capitan state beach has burned. There are no new evacuations.
Firefighters continued to work on building and reinforcing containment lines along the north and east side of the fire, and along the 101 Freeway, which continues to be threatened by the fire, as are crops, parks and power lines.
The Los Angeles Fire Department sent a strike team to fight the blaze Saturday morning. The team consists of five engine companies with a fire chief.
On Friday, the Orange County Fire Authority dispatched a strike team that includes five brush engines and 19 firefighters.
An estimated containment date is midnight on June 23, according to the Incident Information System.
The raging blaze — which is feeding off of brush and tall grass chaparral, and amplified by high winds — was first reported off Refugio Road at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District declared a local emergency and issued a smoke advisory for Los Angeles and Orange counties on Friday in response to the fire, with a warning that winds could push smoke from the blaze across the area.
“While much of the smoke from the distant fire is dispersed and remains aloft, smoke may affect communities across the South Coast Air Basin at times,” according to the advisory. “The smoke is not currently causing significant air quality concerns for the basin, but increased haze can be seen.”
AQMD officials urged people in areas affected by smoke to avoid vigorous activity. People with respiratory or heart ailments, older adults and children should remain indoors, and residents should keep doors and windows closed, AQMD officials said.
Residents were also urged to run air conditioners with the fresh-air intake closed, and avoid using swamp coolers or whole-house fans.
Area campers displaced by the blaze were being directed to the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, where there were still some available camp sites as of Friday, Santa Barbara County Parks spokesman Jeff Lindgren said. Campgrounds at El Capitan and Refugio State Beach have been closed due to the fire. Jalama Campground had no vacancies.
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr said declaring a local emergency was necessary due to the potential for further evacuations and damage to agricultural and natural resources in the area. She emphasized that the safety of the public and the firefighters working to stop the blaze is the county’s top concern.
Farr noted that there has been damage to agriculture already, impacting avocado, lemon and olive groves as well as grazing land. Agriculture is the leading industry in the area, representing $1.48 billion in the county, she noted. Damage assessments are still underway.
Santa Barbara County has established an email helpline for farmers and ranchers impacted by the Sherpa Fire at email@example.com that connects people with the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.
“If you are a farmer or rancher and you believe your crops or livestock will be impacted by the Sherpa Fire, we stand ready to assist,” County Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Fisher said. “We want to help minimize potential losses from this challenging event.”
–City News Service