Lake Cachuma brush fire burns 7,800 acres; 5 percent contained

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (KABC) -- A firefight was continuing in Santa Barbara County on Sunday as crews were battling out-of-control brush fires, one of them trapping dozens of young Southern California campers.

A dramatic wall of flames was captured on video. The Whittier Fire near Lake Cachuma burned 7,800 acres and counting. Only 5 percent of the blaze was contained as of Sunday evening.

Fire officials said vehicles and structures have been lost. They don't have any numbers yet on damage, as it has been too dangerous for crews to get back into those areas.

The blaze broke out about 1:45 p.m. Saturday afternoon near the Whittier campground. The wind helped push the flames over Highway 154, which closed down from Highway 246 to State Route 192.

Saturday night, there was a happy reunion for the parents of about 80 kids, many from the Los Angeles area, who were trapped by the flames near a campground. About 200 children at the summer camp were quickly evacuated, but some ended up hunkering down with firefighters and sheriff's deputies until the fire moved through the area.

"They were trapped because the road was completely enveloped in flames and there were trees falling down across the road, and there was really no way to get them out of there," said Santa Barbara County Fire Department Chief Eric Peterson.

No injuries were reported, and parents were grateful. Many said they had lost contact with the camp.

"Firefighters were fighting the fire, and the roads to get to the campsite were shut down," explained mother Caroline Reales.

Officials said the fuel-driven fire was racing through thick, dry brush and grass in an area that hasn't burned in more than 60 years.

Adding to the challenge is the lack of crews due to the number of fires burning in the west. The Alamo Fire along the border of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties was burning nearly 24,000 acres.

About 3,500 residents have been evacuated due to the Whittier Fire.

The following places were under evacuation orders:

  • Cachuma Camp
  • Camp Whittier
  • Rancho Alegre
  • Circle V Ranch
  • Live Oak Camp
  • Cachuma Village

Evacuation centers were set up at San Marcos High School, 4750 Hollister Avenue, and Santa Ynez Elementary School, 3325 Pine St. Anyone with small animals could bring them to the Santa Barbara Humane Society at 5399 Overpass Road.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
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