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Fire Halted Short of Condor Release Area

<i> from a Times Staff Writer</i>

Hacking their way through rugged chaparral-filled canyons, 500 firefighters Sunday blocked the advance of a fire that threatened the remote ridgetop site in Santa Barbara County where scientists release condors into the wild.

Although the fire was 70% contained by late Sunday, “It’s pretty tough terrain, so we don’t expect full containment until 6 p.m. (Monday),” said state Deputy Fire Marshal Jim Tringham. “The condor site is five miles away and it’s not going to get close. So it’s safe.”

The 3,000-acre blaze was apparently started by human hands, but it was too early to say whether it was accidental or deliberate, fire officials said.

The flames did not endanger the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary, where regulations discourage the use of airborne firefighting equipment. The refuge for the handful of survivors of the ancient, broad-winged avian breed lies several miles farther south, beyond a ridge within the San Rafael Wilderness Area.

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Aided by four airborne tankers and a water-dropping helicopter, firefighters from local, state and federal agencies battled the blaze, which began just before noon Saturday in a rugged, road-less area five miles west of the town of New Cuyama.

Fanned by a westerly breeze, flames moved uphill toward Montgomery Potrero, an ancient Chumash Indian site near the spot where the condor program maintains a few temporary structures.

Tracie Welton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, said that firefighters were slowed down occasionally by aboveground oil pipelines that blocked bulldozer access, but that there had been no ruptures or spills.

No injuries or structural losses were reported.

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