Brush fire breaks out near Camp Whittier and Lake Cachuma

Photo of the Whittier Incident by George Rose

***Photo gallery updated below***

***The fire that has since crested the top of the Santa Ynez Mountain range – there are evacuation warnings in effect for  Las Vares Cyn to Winchester Canyon, not Ellwood. Be prepared to leave if Order issued, according to county officials.***

***Reports from leaders at Rancho Allegre Boy Scout camp that only the dining hall and one dorm remain***

***Update 8:50 p.m. from Santa Barbara County Emergency officials that Cachuma Camp, Camp Whittier, Outdoor School/Rancho Alegre are evac. Circle V Ranch, Live Oak Camp and Cachuma Village are being evacuated. ***

*** The Whittier Fire has grown to more than 5,400 acres with no containment and crested the ridge heading towards Goleta/Santa Barbara at Condor Peak and Eagle Canyon in West Goleta. No evacuations for the Santa Barbara side of the Santa Ynez Mountains yet, and one water dropping helicopter will continue into the evening hours, according to SBC Fire Cpt. Dave Zaniboni.

More bulldozers, hand crews and aircrafts are ordered for the morning, he added. ***

Photo by Barry Sigman

A brush fire that broke out near Camp Whittier and Lake Cachuma Saturday afternoon and is being called the “Whittier Incident” is more than 3,000 acres and growing on both sides of Highway 154, according to fire officials.

Highway 154 is now closed at Highway 246 on the Santa Ynez side and Paradise Road on the Santa Barbara Side. Those in the area are to use caution. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department issued an evacuation order to those near Lake Cachuma in the Highway 154 corridor now including all persons from Armour Ranch Road to Paradise Road INCLUDING Paradise Road are to evacuate immediately.

“The Chumash Casino’s transportation department has been working with the county and the sheriffs dept in using two of our buses to assist with the emergency evacuation of local residents along 154,” according to Chumash officials.

The main concern was to evacuate some 80 children at Circle V Ranch Camp, as the fire on both sides of the highway is blocking access, according to Cpt. Dave Zaniboni of SBC Fire.

“They are sheltered in place with fire fighters from the Forest Service and are safe as of now,” Zaniboni said.

As of 6 p.m. the children had been all safely evacuated to the Santa Ynez Valley. They are being held in Solvang until parents can pick them up or they will be bused to drop locations along the Central Coast, according to camp officials.

The camp staff nor campers weren’t able to give a statement when our reporter reached out, only saying all are accounted for and safe.

Camp Whittier was evacuated with all persons accounted for and they came to the Santa Ynez side to be transported, Zaniboni added.

The fire is at zero percent containment.

A photo of the DC-10 air tanker near Lake Cachuma. Photo by Mark Sanchez

The Santa Ynez Valley is hot and breezy with a high above 100 degrees Saturday, before dropping down into the 80s on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. A Red Flag Warning is in effect which means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now. A combination of strong winds with low relative humidity and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior.

The last major fire to burn in the area near Lake Cachuma on the mountain side was the Refugio Fire in September of 1955 that burned for 10 days and scorched more than 77,000 acres, according to Santa Barbara County historical records. The map below shows the overlay of the major fire incidents in the last several decades.

Our reporters have spoken with staff at Camp Whittier that said the fire was in their manager’s yard and they are out of town with their animals still there, hopefully being taken care of.  The house was surrounded in flames, according to camp managers.

Cpt. David Zaniboni with Santa Barbara County Fire was not sure how large the fire was at the time we spoke with him, and we will update with totals and crew responding.

A panorama shot of the two white heads from the smoke plumes of the #alamofire and the #whittierincident – Photo by Toby Giorgi