Fire breaks out near Orcutt
ORCUTT — A vegetation fire burned an estimated five acres on Wednesday afternoon in the area of State Route 1 and West Clark Avenue west of Orcutt, authorities said.
The Clark Incident was reported around 1:45 p.m. Initial reports indicated the call was for a smoke check in the area, and as the first arriving unit got to the scene a first-alarm response was launched to bring in additional fire apparatus, said Capt. Daniel Bertucelli, spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
The fire was moving at a slow to moderate rate of spread and several structures were initially threatened. Ground crews put in hose lines and worked to douse the blaze, as dozers and hand crews built a secure line around the fire. Fixed-wing aircraft were ordered but canceled, while a helicopter assisted ground units, Capt. Bertucelli said.
Forward progress of the fire was halted and crews remained on scene for a time mopping up. No injuries or damage was reported, and the cause of the fire is under investigation.
— Mitchell White
Lawsuit filed to stop oil well, pipeline in Carrizo Plain
Conservation groups have sued the Trump administration to reverse its approval of a new oil well and pipeline in the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
The legal action is aimed at resolving the fate of other dormant wells and associated facilities that the Bureau of Land Management identified for possible removal in 2013.
The BLM originally approved the well and pipeline in 2018 but withdrew that approval last year after Los Padres ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity filed objections. The conservation groups cited the well’s potential harm to wildlife, views and the climate.
In May, the BLM re-approved the project. Conservation officials say the proposed fossil fuel extraction would harm threatened and endangered wildlife, mar scenic views and violate several laws, including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act, as well as the monument’s resource-management plan.
The proposed well site is located at the base of the Caliente Mountains, inside the western boundary of Carrizo Plain National Monument. The area is home to several protected species, including threatened San Joaquin antelope squirrels, endangered San Joaquin kit foxes and an endangered flowering plant called the Kern mallow.
The groups’ lawsuit calls for a plan to properly abandon and reclaim old well sites owned by E&B Natural Resources. In 2013, the BLM and the oil company began evaluating 12 idle wells in the Carrizo Plain to determine whether they should be permanently plugged and the surrounding land restored to natural conditions. Seven years later only one of the wells has been addressed, officials said.
The lawsuit centers on the Russell Ranch Oil Field, which covers approximately 1,500 acres of the Carrizo Plain National Monument and adjacent private land.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Named as plaintiffs are the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch.
The Carrizo Plain has been painted by artists exhibiting at the Wildling Museum in Solvang. The area was also the focus of Director Jeff McLoughlin’s “Carrizo Plain: A Sense of Place,” in the Los Olivos NatureTrack film festival.
— Mitchell White
Bendle to be released after mental health treatment
A Santa Maria man who nearly decapitated and killed a senior citizen with a hatchet after suffering a psychotic break 11 years ago will be released into the community after a judge ruled he had successfully completed his intensive mental health treatment.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced Wednesday that 31-year-old Nicholas Bendle will be released from further court-ordered treatment and the supervision of the Solano County Conditional Release Program.
On Aug. 1, 2009, Mr. Bendle randomly murdered an unsuspecting pedestrian with a hatchet. He was found guilty by reason of insanity in December of 2011.
The 2009 murder was determined to have been the result of a psychotic break due to “the rapid onset of previously undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia,” Ms. Dudley said.
Mr. Bendle completed several mental health transition programs, and in July 2018 was transitioned to living independently under CONREP. He has consistently been described as a “model patient” with great insight into his mental health disorder and relapse prevention, Ms. Dudley said.
On Nov. 4, 2019, Mr. Bendle filed an Application for Restoration to Sanity, seeking release from the CONREP program. The Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office and Solano County CONREP supervision opposed Mr. Bendle’s discharge from the program as premature due to recent life altering events in Mr. Bendle’s life, as well as a lack of an aftercare plan. The District Attorney’s Office consulted with Mr. Bendle’s treating psychiatrist at Patton State Hospital, as well as reviewing years of CONREP program records, to conduct a thorough assessment of his progress as it relates to public safety concerns. The District Attorney’s Office also looked into Mr. Bendle’s life altering events that could derail the progress he has made and emphasized the need for a comprehensive aftercare plan, Ms. Dudley said.
A trial on Mr. Bendle’s petition commenced on Dec. 4, 2020. The Honorable Judge John F. McGregor heard the testimony of Mr. Bendle’s psychiatrist since 2015 (Dr. Scott Turpin), his prior CONREP clinician (Christie Vice, LCSW); his current CONREP clinician (Mia DeSoto), and the Solano County CONREP Community Program Director (Dr. Sheela Puri).
“None of the expert witnesses opined that Mr. Bendle is a continuing danger as a result of his mental disorder,” Ms. Dudley said. “After considering the testimony and exhibits presented, Judge McGregor found that there was no significant evidence of Mr. Bendle’s current dangerousness to the health and safety of others. As a result, the Judge ruled that Mr. Bendle’s petition should be granted.”
— Mitchell White