Alisal fire explodes to least 2,000 acres near Santa Barbara; 101 Freeway closed

A brush fire north of Santa Barbara exploded in size on Monday, shutting down the 101 Freeway and prompting evacuations as gusty conditions drove flames through rough terrain that hadn’t burned in decades.

The Alisal fire started at 2:30 p.m. near the Alisal Reservoir, fire officials said. Strong winds pushed the fire south toward Tajiguas Landfill and the 101 Freeway.

Spreading flames prompted officials to shut down the 101 between Pacific Coast Highway and Winchester Canyon/Cathedral Oaks Road around 5:30 p.m., according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire eventually crossed the freeway and made its way to Tajiguas Beach, fire officials said.

By Monday evening, strong winds with sustained speeds of 30 to 35 mph and gusts of up to 70 mph posed the greatest concern to firefighters.

“The fire is approximately 2,000 acres with 0% containment,” officials said. “The fire is burning in dense chaparral and is being pushed by strong winds and growing at a rapid rate of speed. Smoke is visible throughout southern Santa Barbara County including the Santa Ynez Valley and along the Gaviota coastline.”

Much of Santa Barbara County remains under a high wind warning until Tuesday morning, officials said.

Those winds have also prevented aircraft from taking a more active role in fighting the fire.

While ground crews were in place, the high winds prevented aircraft carrying water or flame retardant from taking off.

Smoke from the Alisal fire.

(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Evacuation orders were in effect for residents in Refugio Canyon, including Arroyo Hondo, Tajiguas and Arroyo Quemada. The order was expanded to include El Capitan State Park and the El Capitan Campground.

An evacuation warning was put in place for the area north of El Capitan Campground and east to Dos Pueblos Canyon.

A temporary evacuation center was established in the parking lot of Dos Pueblos High School, at 7266 Alameda Ave., in Goleta, officials said.

Santa Barbara County Animal Services also activated its fire response. Any residents who need help evacuating their animals should call (805) 681-4332.

Firefighters believe the Alisal fire threatens as many as 100 structures, including ranches and homes.

Andrew Madsen, a spokesman for the Los Padres National Forest, said gusty winds drove the Alisal fire, whipping up embers and causing spot fires, which then spread rapidly.

“A couple hundred” firefighters were on scene or on their way as of early Monday night, Madsen said. Resource orders are in place for another 200 firefighters, who are expected to arrive overnight.

Crews are concentrating on protection of homes and other structures in the area, he said.

In addition to strong winds, the amount of available fuel concerns firefighters.

Madsen said it’s believed the last time the area burned was during the 1955 Refugio fire, which tore through nearly 80,000 acres.

But crews could have some luck on their side.

The Alisal fire appears to be moving to the southeast. If that movement continues, it’ll run into the burn scar left by the 2016 Sherpa fire, Madsen said, giving crews a chance to better control and contain the blaze.

As of shortly before 9 p.m., the 101 Freeway remained closed, according to Caltrans.

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