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La Brea Fire Friday Report

End in sight for two-week long blaze


Friday, August 21, 2009

After 14 days of tough firefighting, an estimate of full containment of the La Brea Fire is in sight for tomorrow, August 22.

Late hanging fog yesterday caused delays in transporting hotshot crews via helicopter to the last critical section of the fire deep in the San Rafael Wilderness. Two more hotshot crews are being added today. They, and others, will continue to knock down any remaining flames and hot spots in the unbelievably steep country. Slow but steady progress is being achieved as indicated by infrared images taken last night. Very little heat remains near the majority of the fire’s edge.

La Brea Fire progression from August 9 - 20. (we have enlarged the provided image to aid readability)
Click to enlarge photo

USFS

La Brea Fire progression from August 9 - 20. (we have enlarged the provided image to aid readability)

For the past few days, as many as eight 20-person crews have worked to stop over 10 miles of fire through hard and direct firefighting. Using hand-held firefighting tools, chainsaws, and supported by an aerial firefighting arsenal of heavy lift helicopters and heavy air tankers, they are connecting the last piece of fireline to achieve 100 percent containment.

The focus today is to get the last section completed, but they are challenged by near cliff conditions in the rugged San Rafael Wilderness, located about 23 miles east of Santa Maria. This section is currently not burning with great vigor, but it still must be suppressed to prevent a possible escape. Firefighters will be alert to the forecasted lightning potential that could bring gusty and erratic winds. Elsewhere, on the 94 percent of the fire currently contained, mop up and fireline rehabilitation efforts continue by over 1,300 firefighters still committed to the effort.

Although decreasing each day, some interior smoke and flare-ups continue, mostly well inside portions of the burned area. They do not pose any serious threat of crossing the containment lines. Firefighters monitor these interior flare-ups and usually do not take any suppression action on them since it is not needed. There are currently no evacuation notices in effect anywhere around the fire.

Suppression line rehabilitation using fire crews, dozers and track hoe excavators is progressing with water bar construction, road culvert cleaning, and scattering vegetation on back-up firelines that were built as a contingency, or on fireline sections where the fire is clearly out. Water bars are small berms built across the slopes to slow water and reduce erosion when the rains return.

The last evacuation warning has been lifted by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

The weather will change slightly this afternoon bringing the threat of scattered thunderstorms, and local gusty winds. Also, the winds will shift to a more southerly flow, helping firefighters by pushing the fire back to previously burned areas in the southeast flank. Fire operations and incident management teams need to keep very aware of current weather conditions and be able to anticipate changes in the weather. In order to do this they use remote automated weather stations or RAWS. Portable RAWS stations are sometimes placed at fires on a temporary basis. The La Brea Fire is currently using several of these sites, Fire RAWS 5, 6 and 7. For additional information on RAWS sites.

U.S. Forest Service Special Agents, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and fire investigators determined the La Brea Fire was caused by a cooking fire at an illegal marijuana drug trafficking operation within the forest. The La Brea Fire Tip Line is still open, and anyone with additional information helpful to this ongoing investigation is urged to contact 805-686-5074.

There is an expanded emergency closure order in effect that includes a total of 405,300 acres For more information, please contact Fire Information at (805) 961-5770 from 6am-10pm.

Due to emergency vehicle traffic and congestion on Highway 166, the public is urged to use extra caution when traveling the highway.

The Manzana School House has survived another fire. Standing on the bench above the confluence of Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River, the Manzana school house brings to mind images of turn of the century life and homesteading. Constructed in 1893, the schoolhouse served a community of about 200 people, living on 20 homesteads near the confluence. Los Angeles precipitation records suggest that five of the seven years from 1894 to 1900 were dry in Southern California. This drought followed a relatively wet 15 year period and would have resulted in a dramatic change in water resources. Farms failed as the drought persisted, and in 1902 the school closed. The Schoolhouse is a Santa Barbara County Historic Landmark. La Brea Fire officials were considering using a fire retartdant wrap to protect the old wooden structure but structure protection efforts by firefighters kept the popular site from going up in flames.

Because of reduce threat to state and county lands, unified command has transitioned to California Interagency Incident Management Team 3(CAIIMT3) The goal of CA IIMT 3 is to provide professional incident management public service through flexible planning, decisive implementation, professional execution and constant assessment of actions taken.

Resources: 44 Engines, 39 Crews, 7 Dozers, 59 Water Tenders, 10 Helicopters.

Basic Information

Incident Type: Wildfire

Cause: Fire was started by a cooking fire at a marijuana drug trafficking operation.

Date of Origin: Saturday August 8, 2009 approximately 2:50 pm

Location: 21 Miles east of Santa Maria

Current Situation

Total Personnel: 1,370

Size: 89,489 acres

Percent Contained: 94%

Estimated Containment Date: Saturday, August 22, approximately midnight

Fuels Involved: Primarily Chaparral with areas of grass and timber.

Fire Behavior: There was very little fire activity over most of the fire due to successful fire suppression activities.

Significant Events: Crews are continuing to make progress with the fireline to the northeast from Manzana Schoolhouse and are also mopping up along containment lines.

Outlook

Planned Actions: Air resources will continue to support suppression activities on the southeastern perimeter in the Water Canyon area. Crews will continue improving lines to the northeast from Manzana Schoolhouse. Patrol and mop-up continues along containment lines. Rehab will continue in affected areas.

Growth Potential: High

Terrain Difficulty : Extreme

Remarks: Command of the La Brea Fire has transitioned from unified command back to the command of California Interagency Incident Management Team 3(CAIIMT3.

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