Santa Barbara County declares state of emergency as wildfire scorches 4,000 acres

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (KTLA) -- A wildfire that burned thousands of acres in Santa Barbara County prompted the declaration of  a local emergency as firefighters continued Friday to face difficult conditions.

KTLA reported that more than 1,200 personnel were responding to the fire, which has been burning since it started near Refugio Road, west of Goleta, on Wednesday.

The fire had scorched 4,000 acres and was just 5 percent contained, officials stated at a late morning news conference Friday. About 270 structures are threatened.

A water treatment plant that serves El Capitan State Beach burned down overnight, a California State Parks superintendent said. Camping reservations were likely to be canceled, he said.

A declaration of local emergency was made by the county just after 10 a.m., said Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the area burning.

Agriculture and natural resources have been damaged, Farr said. Another official said avocados, olives, lemons and cattle-grazing lands were damaged.

The fire comes as California continues into its fifth year of drought.

“It is ominous. We are concerned because the fuels out there are drought-stressed. There’s a lot of tree mortality out there that makes fire behavior worse,” Santa Barbara County Fire Department Chief Eric Peterson said. "The drought is making an already pretty volatile situation not any better."

County Sheriff Bill Brown warned residents to continue to heed mandatory evacuation orders and to be prepared to leave at a moment's notice in areas where evacuation warnings are in effect.

"This is still a very dynamic fire situation and we do not want residents ... to be complacent," Brown said. "Even though conditions may appear to have become better during the day, the reality is things can change ... very rapidly in the evening. We do not want our residents to have a false sense of security."

Officials estimated the fire, is expected to be contained sometime in the afternoon of Wednesday, June 22, the federal InciWeb page for the wildfire stated Friday morning. That statement was no longer on the site by midday.

Information about the fire, which is being referred to as both the Scherpa Fireand Sherpa Fire, is also available on the county's website.

Gusty sundowner winds have continued to fan the flames, pushing them down the mountain toward the coast, during the overnight hours. The winds once again forced the closure of the 101 Freeway through the region Thursday night.

Officials were able to reopen the Freeway about 4 a.m. Friday.

A heat wave was also expected to hit the region over the weekend.