Part of a major freeway remained closed Thursday and evacuations remain in effect for homes located in the area of a fire burning in steep, dense terrain in Santa Barbara County.
The Sherpa Fire, named because it sits near the Sherpa Ranch, was reported at 3:21 p.m. at the top of Refugio Road, near Refugio State Beach and Reagan Ranch, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. The location is about 25 miles north of Santa Barbara, near an ExxonMobil processing facility along the Southern California coast.
The fire burned more than two square miles by Thursday night, chewing through brush and other fuel that has not burned in about 70 years, authorities said. The fire burned across the 101 Freeway, which was shut down after an overnight closure Wednesday.
Eight air tankers, three heavy heli-tankers, three medium helicopters and more were deployed in fighting the blaze.
"A lot of that area is very dangerous to put crews into, so it's going to be slow going," said fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni.
Zaniboni said he didn't have a specific number of residences or people affected but that the crude processing facility has a cleared buffer zone.
ExxonMobil has evacuated some employees, and those that remain are helping protect the plant against the flames, company spokesman Todd Spitler told The Associated Press.
"Our primary concern is for the safety of our employees, contractors and the environment," Spitler said.
For those who were ordered to leave their homes in the Refugio, Venadito, and Las Flores Canyon areas, city officials said a shelter was set up at the Wake Center at 300 N. Turnpike Road by 9 p.m.
Another Red Cross Shelter was available at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School located at 2975 E. Highway 246. Small animals were welcome at the shelters, but those with large animals were asked to call animal services Susan Klein-Rothschild at (805) 896-1057.
The evacuation orders were expanded to El Capitan Canyon, El Capitan Ranch, El Capitan State Beach and Refugio State Beach later in the evening.
Reverse 911 calls were sent to residents in the evacuation areas, encouraging them to leave as soon as possible.