Santa Barbara, Calif., Awaits Rain to Help Put Out Cave Fire

“What’s working in our favor is we’re getting rain tonight,” Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli said. “It’s definitely going to affect our fire behavior. … It’s going to diminish the fire.”

by Leila Miller and Hannah Fry, Los Angeles Times / November 26, 2019
Planes drop fire retardant on the Cave Fire as it bumps around the Santa Ynez Mountains Tuesday morning, Nov. 26, 2019 above Santa Barbara, Calif. Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS

(TNS) — Around this time of year, wildfires are often influenced by two forces: wind and rain.

Santa Barbara on Monday night got heavy winds, fueling the dangerous Cave fire that threatened numerous homes north of the city.

But nature might also offer firefighters some relief, in the form of a storm moving in Tuesday night.

“What’s working in our favor is we’re getting rain tonight,” Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli said. “It’s definitely going to affect our fire behavior. … It’s going to diminish the fire.”

The storm, which is expected to drop about an inch of precipitation on the fire area, brings its own challenges in the burn area because of possible debris flows it could cause. During an early-morning briefing, fire officials warned crews to be cautious when the rain started and to have a plan in case roadways were washed out.

Bertucelli said officials were mostly concerned about small rock slides onto Highway 154.

Residents whose homes were threatened by the fire were also counting on rains.

“People say, ‘what about the mudslides,’ but I believe we need it,” said Fred Cortez, standing in his socks on his ash-sprinkled porch in Santa Barbara County’s Blue Skies Mobile Home Park. On Monday night, Cortez watched as car after car fled the mobile home park, but he chose not to evacuate.

The community was not under a mandatory evacuation order, and Cortez figured that if he really had to leave, police would come into the neighborhood to alert residents. In the meantime, he repositioned his car so he could make a quick getaway and began packing some important paperwork and belongings.

Cortez watched the news on his computer until 4 a.m., keeping the windows blinds up so he could keep an eye on the fire on the mountains outside. “It looked like it would calm down, and then it would flare up again,” he said.

The rain was likely to reach the Central Coast by midnight before moving into Los Angeles County by sunrise on Wednesday. The storm is expected to dump 1 to 2 inches of precipitation on the coast and valleys, and up to 3 inches in the foothills and lower elevations of the mountains, said Kristen Stewart, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

“There’s likely going to be heavy rain for the morning commute in Los Angeles tomorrow, so people should be prepared for that,” she said.

The storm also brings the potential for debris flows in burn-scarred areas in Southern California, including the San Fernando Valley region affected by the Saddleridge fire and the Easy fire in Simi Valley.

There’s a slight chance of thunderstorms Thursday with brief pockets of heavy rain. Sustained precipitation could cause mudslides in burn areas, the weather service warned.

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