Fast-moving Santa Barbara County fire grows to 19,000 acres; evacuations ordered

A firefighters maneuvers his vehicle down a private road as the Alamo fire burned continued to burn out of control near Santa Maria on Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A fast-moving wildfire burning in northern Santa Barbara County has grown to 19,000 acres, forcing evacuations amid soaring temperatures, officials said.

The Alamo fire, which started Thursday and eventually grew to 6,000 acres, roared across another 12,000 acres by Saturday afternoon near the border of San Luis Obispo County, prompting a frantic response from firefighters across Southern California, officials said.

The fire, located near Highway 166, was only 10% contained, officials said. Crews were battling to protect Tepusquet Canyon, their efforts hampered by extreme heat, low humidity and winds from the northeast.


“Low humidity, high heat and the winds are right — and there’s just a lot of stuff to burn,” said Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Gina DePinto. She said firefighters’ main focus Saturday is to secure the south and east sides of the blaze. If winds shift toward the northwest, as expected, homes could burn, she said.

Temperatures in the fire area were expected to reach up to 100 degrees Saturday, with humidity as high as 20%, said Todd Hall, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. Winds will stay between 10 and 20 mph, he said, with possible gusts of up 35 mph Saturday night.

Things will cool down in the evening, however, when temperatures are expected to stay below 85 degrees, and humidity will remain under 30%, Hall said.

Columns of smoke could be seen Saturday from several miles away in Santa Maria and south across the county to the Santa Ynez Valley, according to fire officials.

Close to 200 homes have been evacuated, officials said. A mandatory evacuation order remained in effect for Blazing Saddle Drive, White Rock Lane and Tepusquet Road, south of Blazing Saddle Drive to Santa Maria Mesa Road. An evacuation warning also was issued for the Buckhorn area, DePinto said, though some people chose to stay.

A Red Cross shelter has been set up at the Minami Community Center in Santa Maria. Large animals also were being sheltered at the Elks Unical Event Center.


DePinto said 1,000 personnel are on site, up from 350 Friday. Those include crews from Santa Barbara County, Cal Fire, Ventura County and Los Angeles County. She said more help is on the way.

Fire crews are being assisted by five water-dropping helicopters and four retardant-dropping air tankers.

Officials don’t know yet what caused the fire.

Meanwhile, a vegetation fire near Cachuma Lake in the Santa Ynez Valley about 50 miles south was continuing to burn out of control Saturday, prompting evacuations of campers and residents in the area, fire officials said.

The blaze near Camp Whittier was started by a car fire about 2 p.m. and blackened at least 500 acres, said Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

About 80 campers were initially trapped at the Circle V Ranch Camp, but U.S. Forest Service firefighters managed to reach the group, and they are safely sheltering in place, he said.

The fire is continuing to burn on both sides of Highway 154, so vehicles are unable to reach camp at this time, Zaniboni said.


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5:50 p.m.: This story was updated with new information about a separate fire near Cachuma Lake.

4:25 p.m.: This story was updated with new information about the acreage burned.

12:15 p.m.: This article was updated with new information about evacuations and firefighting efforts.

July 8, 10:05 a.m.: This article was updated with new details from fire officials about the size of the blaze.

7 p.m.: This article was updated with more information on the Tower fire and evacuation areas.

6:10 p.m.: This article was updated with more details on the fire’s spread.

5:45 p.m.: This article was updated with increases in the fire’s size and other details.

This article was originally published at 3:55 p.m. July 7.