‘The White Fire’ Blazes Through Los Padres National Forest


Thomas Alexander
Isla Vista Beat Reporter

Smoke and smog blotted out the skies of Isla Vista on Monday afternoon after a raging fire erupted in the hills several miles to the North. As of Tuesday afternoon, the blaze had spread through more than 1800 acres of the Los Padres National Forest and it had only been 10 percent contained.

The so-called “White Fire,” which is named for the White Rock Day Use area in which it began, is preying upon dry, rugged chaparral terrain in the Upper Santa Ynez River area to the east of Lake Cachuma. Captain David Sadecki of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department explained that firefighters are seeing the sort of conditions that they would typically encounter in August or September, with 40 mile-per-hour wind gusts, 25 percent humidity, and temperatures in the low 80s on both Monday and Tuesday.

“The warm weather, the lack of rain, and then these wind conditions we’ve been having are all contributing to this fire going as it has been,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Manny Madrigal.

Despite dangerous wind conditions, the fire is spreading east, away from most inhabited areas and dwellings. Ground crews have been working to contain the blaze at its eastern end by setting fire lines—clearing vegetation and making use of natural barriers to ensure that there is nothing left to burn through.

“On Tuesday, we were trying to get a line around the east flank of the fire and continue from there,” explained Madrigal. “Once we get that east flank tied in, we should be pretty good.”

According to Sadecki, firefighters evacuated some 4,000 to 6,000 campers and hikers from the Paradise Canyon area, along with 50 or more local residents. The American Red Cross established an evacuation center at 300 North Turnpike Road to accommodate the displaced individuals. Residents were allowed to return to their homes as of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, although campgrounds remain closed pending further containment of the blaze.

The exact cause of the fire remains unknown, said Madrigal, but the Forest Service and the County Fire Department are investigating various tips and rumors. As of Tuesday afternoon, Madrigal confirmed that approximately 10 percent of the fire has been contained, but proposed that firefighters working through the night on Tuesday may be able to increase that number.