On Aug. 3, the Zaca sprinted toward Santa Barbara, pumping out giant clouds of smoke and showers of ash. By coincidence, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger flew to the area that day to visit a friend. He took a detour to the Santa Barbara County emergency operations center, arriving just as county supervisors were meeting to declare an emergency.
There and then, Schwarzenegger signed a state proclamation of emergency, officially making the Zaca battle a California priority.
The next day, an additional 740 firefighters were on the scene.
By mid-August, the Zaca had burned into its second month and was less than 10 miles from Santa Barbara. Calls to the Forest Service picked up. Residents wanted an end to smoky skies and daily anxiety, and a Montecito woman was ready to do her part.
"She wants this fire to stop and is willing to provide resources ($) to make it happen," reads the entry in a Forest Service phone log. "She doesn't care about the fires across the nation. She feels this area must be protected and the fire put out."
On Aug. 21, the Zaca army reached a peak of 3,100 firefighters from across the West.
Most of them ate, slept and got their orders in two elaborately equipped camps on either side of Los Padres.
When Lee Belau started out in the 1950s, fire camps were primitive.
"I remember the biggest improvement was when they got tables with chairs so you could sit down to eat," said Belau, a retired Forest Service fire management officer who lives in Porterville.
"The toilets were a slit trench in the ground. . . . You slept on the ground. There were no tents."
There were no showers either. Meals were cooked by inmate crews.
Forest Service financial records from the Zaca fire reveal just how much things have changed.
Not only did firefighters have tents, some of them retired to private berths in sleeping trailers supplied by the Mobile Sleeper Co. of Corona for $1,982 a day each. Each berth had its own temperature controls. Sheets were changed by an attendant.
Fire crews scrubbed down in 12-stall shower trailers that cost $2,100 a day. The gray water was hauled away in $1,667-a-day trucks.
A $400-an-hour mobile laundry washed their sooty clothes.
A mobile kitchen, run by an El Segundo company that caters movie shoots, served scrambled eggs and hot cakes for breakfast, curried chicken and barbecue ribs for dinner. For vegetarians, there was curried tofu or veggie fajitas.
The firm, For Stars Catering, grossed $4.7 million on the Zaca, according to Forest Service records.