A dangerous fire broke out Wednesday near a mostly deserted community in Santa Barbara. Officials expected to contained the blaze by Thursday morning, but not before it disrupted residents in the Painted Cave area. One resident’s home was just a few hundred yards from the fire line. He explains what he quickly snagged before being evacuated. Gordon Tokumatsu reports from the San Marcos Pass for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 17, 2012.
The 25-acre Lookout Fire at the edge of the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara is 45 percent contained, according to the US Forest Service.
"Approximately 40 structures have been evacuated with another 60 structures at risk. A shelter has been opened on North Turnpike and large animals are being accepted at Earl Warren Showgrounds," according to an alert from the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.
Mandatory evacuations for the Painted Cave area were lifted at 5 p.m., but warning evacuations remain in effect for West Camino Cielo, Hidden Valley and Trout Club.
Sheriff's deputies patrolled the evacuated areas and "those who are found without lawful purpose in the evacuated areas are subject to citation or arrest," according to the sheriff's department.
Rob Fowler was away at breakfast when the mandatory evacuation orders were issued.
"It was chaos here today," he said. "When I came up half-hour after my wife, she had the horses loaded up. The dog. The cat."
No homes were lost and no one was seriously injured, but the blaze evoked memories of 1990, when a woman died and 400 homes were destroyed in the Painted Cave Fire.
Eight air tankers, five helicopter and about 300 firefighters are battling the blaze, said Andrew Madsen of the US Forest Service. Firefighters planned to work into the evening.
"You gotta hand it to the firefighters up here. They do a pretty tremendous job," said Rich Phelps with the Los Padres National Forest.
At least one firefighter suffered a minor leg injury and the cause of the fire remains unclear, he said.
Some power lines in the area were downed. About 100 residents were affected, but Southern California Edison expected most power to be restored Wednesday afternoon, according to the utility's website.
Earlier, Santa Barbara County Sheriff's deputies went door to door warning residents. Authorities also made reverse 911 calls to alert the community about the fire danger.
Evacuation Map: Lookout Fire
Although buildings are being threatened no structural damage has been reported yet.
"It's a rural setting above Santa Barbara. You have a lot of homes that are just scattered around up there," Madsen said. "We're coming at it with everything that's at our disposal"
Wind speeds were expected to range between 5 and 10 mph with no real gusts throughout the afternoon. Humidity will range between 20 to 40 percent, and temperatures are expected to drop over the next few days.
The forecast is calling for much better firefighting conditions starting Thursday: on-shore flow was expected to increase moisture in the air, dampening flames.
"There are some weather forecasts for increasing winds this evening, whether they're sundowners or off-shore stuff. That's why the response is critical at this early stage so we can knock this down before the winds arrive later today," Madsen said.
The vegetation fire began about 8 a.m. at Highway 154 and Painted Cave Road (map), according to the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management. The area in the San Marcos Pass is about 12 miles north of Santa Barbara and 20 miles southeast of the Lake Cachuma Recreation Area.
The vast Los Padres National Forest has seen multiple large fires in recent years. In 2007, the Zaca Fire destroyed more than 240,000 acres -- the second largest blaze in state history.
In June 1990, the area burned during what became known as the Painted Cave Fire. Fueled by hot, dry winds, the fire quickly burned out of the rugged hillside area and raced through residential areas.
More than 400 homes were destroyed.
"The difference there was that the Painted Cave fire of 1990, that occurred in July and that was a malicious fire-start dispute between some neighbors up there. The sundowner winds were in full effect. That fire kicked off in the evening time and it basically rolled all the way down the hill to the 101. We don't have the winds here. It's later in the season, but it's just as warm," Madsen said.
Lookout Fire: Evacuation Map:
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that the fire had grown to 50 acres. The correct acreage as of 4 p.m. was 25.