Three firefighters suffered heat-related injuries Sunday while battling a raging wildfire in Santa Barbara County, as crews continued to make progress against the blaze despite unfavorable conditions.
More than 2,000 firefighters have been assigned to the Sherpa Fire, also called the Scherpa Fire, which has burned 7,893 acres and was 51 percent contained, according to the latest estimates released by the county on Sunday evening.
“The fire managers consider this a sleeping giant at the moment,” said Jim Schwarber, a spokesman for the fire’s incident management team. “Hopefully it’ll continue to sleep while we wrap it up.”
A red flag warning was in effect in the county through Tuesday amid a forecast that included triple-digit heat, low humidity and potentially problematic sundowner winds, according to the National Weather Service.
“Big concern is the red flag warnings,” an official told KTLA. “We’re trying to make sure we keep a good containment around what we do have protected.”
The conditions combined created “extreme fire danger” in the county’s south coast and in the Santa Ynez Mountains, forecasters stated.
Humidity drastically decreased, from 40 to 45 percent Saturday night to 10-15 percent on Sunday, according to the county. Sundowners were observed over portions of the fire, with gusts of up to 55 mph.
“The situation is that the vegetation is very dry, the heat coming in and the humidity going down will make it a more problematic fire,” said Frank Mosbacher, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service.
Sundowner winds, a major concern in the region, blew downhill Saturday night toward a burned portion of land, while the containment lines held overnight, according to Mosbacher.
“We had a good night last night,” he said.
As firefighters continued to make progress against the blaze, mandatory evacuations remained in effect, according to the federal InciWeb page for the wildfire.
Roughly 270 structures remain threatened as of Sunday evening.
Evacuation orders were in place for Refugio Canyon, Venadito Canyon, Las Flores Canyon, El Capitan Canyon, El Capitan State Beach, El Capitan Ranch and Canada de la Destiladera, as well the area east of the Refugio burn area up to Calle Lippizana, near the equestrian center.
The areas east of El Capitan Canyon to Farren Road, Las Llagas Canyon, Gato Canyon, Las Varas Canyon, Dos Pueblos Canyon and Eagle Canyon were under an evacuation warning.
Residents in those areas have been urged to be ready to leave at a moments notice, should the warning become a mandatory evacuation order.
Displaced residents can go to the American Red Cross shelter that has been set up at the Wake Center located at 300 N. Turnpike Rd. in the Goleta area, according to the InciWeb page.
The center will stay open until all evacuations are lifted.
Officials hope to have to the blaze contained by Thursday, which is approximately eight days after the wildfire broke out west of Goleta near Refugio Road.
“We’ll just have to see,” Mosbacher said. “It’s a tough country in there, and the firefighters will do the best they can to work safely and stop as much as they can.”
The fast-moving fire prompted a local emergency to be declared less than 48 hours after it erupted in an area that hasn’t burned in more than 65 years, according to a county news release.
An air-quality warning remained in effect for the southern parts of Santa Barbara County through the weekend, but smoke from the fire was also impacting air quality as far south as Los Angeles and Orange counties.
One firefighter was injured battling the blaze, and a water treatment building at El Capitan state beach burned to the ground, county officials said.
Three other firefighters were transported for medical treatment — two by ambulance, the other by helicopter — after suffering heat-related injuries, said Schwarber, the incident management team spokesman. They were expected to recover.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation.
KTLA’s John A. Moreno contributed to this report.