By ANNELISE HANSHAW and MADISON HIRNEISEN
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITERS
The Alisal Fire grew to over 15,400 acres Wednesday as more than 1,300 firefighters continued to battle the multi-day blaze.
Containment was at 5% as of Wednesday afternoon.
Officials launched an aerial attack on the fire Wednesday, deploying fixed-wing aircraft to spray flame retardant to slow the forward progress of the blaze. Since the fire started on Monday, responders were unable to deploy fixed-wing tankers due to heavy winds in the area, though crews utilized helicopters to deploy water drops on Tuesday.
Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli told the News-Press that the inability to use aircraft has a “significant impact” on the ability to contain a fire.
“We utilize air resources all the time, and they work in conjunction with ground resources,” Capt. Bertucelli said. “It’s a coordinated effort, so it’s been a significant issue. But now as the wind is hopefully continuing to diminish, we’re going to be able to get all those aircraft up in the air and start knocking it down.”
The fire, which began Monday afternoon near Alisal Lake, was very “wind-driven” in its first few days, Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig told reporters Wednesday.
The chief explained that officials expect to see some “seesawing action” with the fire as it changes direction. He said onshore wind flow would push the fire further into the canyon the next few days, adding that officials were expecting to battle sundowner winds throughout the canyons Wednesday evening.
“That onshore flow will push this well-established fire on these canyons and further into the canyon and infrastructures that, quite frankly, have been protected from a downwind assault,” Chief Hartwig said Wednesday. “That will change when the winds change. And so we’ll see some seesawing action on this fire over the next few days.”
Chief Hartwig added that officials expect to be putting out hotspots from the fire for “weeks, if not months.”
Officials reported that about 120 structures remained threatened by the blaze on Wednesday. According to Capt. Bertucelli, there are reports of three outbuildings destroyed in the Refugio Canyon area and one abandoned residence destroyed on the Gaviota Coast just west of the Tajiguas Landfill.
Chief Hartwig said these reports are not confirmed yet.
Structure defense remains a high priority for crews working the fire, officials said Wednesday. Firefighters are currently providing structure defense for the $150 million Tajiguas Landfill ReSource Center and the structures along Refugio Canyon, El Capitan Ranch and in Camino Cielo, near the Reagan Ranch.
Los Padres National Forest firefighters said although one of the fire’s “fingers” appears to have extended toward ExxonMobil’s inactive Las Flores Canyon facility, it has not yet reached the oil and gas plant.
“We have been closely monitoring the fire,” ExxonMobil spokesperson Julie King told the News-Press in a statement. “ExxonMobil’s primary focus continues to be the safety of our employees and contractors in the area. We are grateful that there were no injuries and no damage to our facilities at Las Flores Canyon.”
For more coverage of the fire, see Thursday’s News-Press.