Containment on 12-Day-Old Whittier Fire Increases to 83%

Crews continue working to complete fire lines on the rugged southern flank of the 18,430-acre blaze

By Tom Bolton, Noozhawk Executive Editor

Containment on the Whittier Fire continued to grow Thursday and overnight, with the steep and rugged southern flank of the 12-day-old blaze presenting the final challenge to firefighters.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work on the front country, right on the fire’s edge,” public information officer Mike Lindbery told Noozhawk Thursday night. “The humid weather has really given us a great opportunity to get out there.

“And so we’ve put a couple of Santa Barbara County crews and four Hotshot crews up there. And they’re working right along the fire’s edge doing what we call ‘spiking out’ or ‘coyote tactics,’ where they actually live out there on the fire line.”

Those efforts — along with support from aircraft and bulldozers — brought the fire to 83 percent containment on Friday morning.

“Minimal fire activity is expected today,” the U.S. Forest Service reported in its Friday morning update. “Visible fire last night was well within the perimeter, near Condor Peak. Fire may be seen again tonight within the burn area. Interior islands may continue to burn today, but no forward progression is likely to occur.”

An estimated 18,430 acres have burned in the Santa Ynez Mountains between the coastal area west of Goleta on the south and Lake Cachuma on the north since the Whittier Fire broke out July 8.

A light, downslope sundowner wind condition was expected Thursday evening, with gusts to 15 mph, but officials said it was unlikely to cause any significant movement of the fire.

“Don’t be surprised if you see some glowing up on the hill as the winds come over,” said Dennis Burns, a fire behavior analyst, during Thursday evening’s briefing for the night-shift firefighters.

The weather outlook remains good, with the marine layer along the coast returning each evening to provide a cool buffer for the flames.

A map of the Whittier Fire as of Friday morning. Black line represents containment, while red indicates open fire line.
A map of the Whittier Fire as of Friday morning. Black line represents containment, while red indicates open fire line. 
Since the start of the fire, crews have been working 12-hour shifts, day and night. That’s likely to end in the next couple days, with the more-dangerous night shifts being eliminated.

“When it comes to doing the night shift, we’ll look out there, and we’ll do a hazard assessment,” Lindbery explained. “Basically we weigh the risk versus the gain of what we’re about to do.

“And obviously during this fire, there was a lot to be gained by getting these lines closed off.

“I think what they’re looking at is we’re getting pretty close to containment,” Lindbery added, noting that the risk of putting people out on the fire line at night is no longer justified.

The force battling the blaze continues to decline, with 1,265 personnel assigned as of Friday morning.

Some crews have been sent home, but many have been reassigned to other fires burning in the state, particularly the Detwiler Fire near Yosemite National Park, which has blackened more than 70,000 acres and destroyed 100 structures.

That blaze was only 10 percent contained Thursday night, with more than 3,700 fire personnel assigned.

The estimated date for full containment of the Whittier Fire remains July 30.

— Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at tbolton@noozhawk.com