The La Brea fire — which was 10 percent contained Wednesday evening — is the first major fire to hit San Luis Obispo County this summer, burning 21 miles east of Santa Maria in the Los Padres National Forest.
The blaze had its largest overnight growth Tuesday night, spreading approximately 6,000 acres. By Wednesday evening, the fire had burned an additional 3,000 acres.
“Because of 50 mph winds and humidity that stayed low to the ground, it caused to fire to be very active last night, which it typically hasn’t been,” Maeton Freel, information officer for the Los Padres National Forest, said Wednesday.
To keep the blaze under control, 1,277 personnel were at the fire overnight Tuesday. Many firefighters camped near the fire to avoid travel burdens. Freel said that although they try to get local crews, many of them are from dispersed areas around the state.
By Wednesday evening, the staffing had increased to 1,815 personnel, but weather conditions were expected to improve, with only 20 mph winds.
“This is burning in an area with fuels that haven’t burned in 80 years,” said Jennifer Greg, another information officer for the national forest.
Greg said the fire was primarily fuel-driven, burning dry dense brush. The northeast portion of the land hasn’t burned since 1922, but the southwest portion burned as recently as May, when the Jesuita fire burned 8,733 acres.
As of Wednesday evening, there were 39 engines, 49 fire crews, 19 bulldozers and 11 helicopters at the scene.
The nearest properties are just a half-mile from the fire, Freel said.
Santa Barbara County issued an evacuation order Tuesday to 14 surrounding ranches and fire officials moved livestock as necessary.
Despite light population, the San Luis Obispo County Air Quality Management District and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and the Air Pollution Control District each issued a health advisory warning early in the week.
County health officials urge residents to use common sense and stay indoors if they are exposed to smoke and ash from the fire. The ash is also corrosive, meaning people should avoid skin contact.
At Cal Poly, located 75 miles from the heart of the fire, the concern is lower than at locations closer to the fire.
Dr. David Harris, head of Cal Poly’s medical services at the campus health center, said he has never noticed an increase in asthma or skin-related illness as a result of local fires during his tenure.
Even when the fire burned hills above Cal Poly and it rained ash for two days, Harris said the university didn’t see an increase in patients.
“It hasn’t been that irritative,” Harris said. “I suspect it has to do probably with the fact we haven’t had a real high concentration of smoke. The ash is just kind of falling, but the smoke is staying up higher.”