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Firefighters Keep Eye on Possible Storm: Rain Would Help, but Lightning is Also a Possibility

July 12, 2008

By Adam Foxman, Ventura County Star, Calif.

Jul. 12–A potential storm moving up from the southeast could help or hurt firefighters’ efforts to battle a 9,400-acre wildfire in the mountains above Santa Barbara and Goleta, authorities said.

“It depends on whether or not we get any rain,” Rolf Larsen, a Los Padres National Forest spokesman, said of the weather pattern, which also could bring wind and lightning.

There is a 20 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties through Sunday, said Bill Hoffer, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Rain would be a welcome development for firefighters, who have been battling the Gap fire since July 1. High temperatures have posed a challenge for firefighters working in steep terrain.

If the storm arrives without precipitation, it could bring erratic winds and make firefighters’ jobs more difficult, Larsen said. A thunderstorm without rain could also mean dry lightning, which on June 20 sparked the first of more than 1,700 recent wildfires in California.

As of Friday, the Gap fire, which has burned through 9,443 acres, was 75 percent contained.

A lack of strong winds in recent days helped firefighters make progress, but they have been working for close to a week on contingency plans in case the conditions worsen, Larsen said.

On Friday, firefighters were working to improve backup containment lines near Refugio Canyon, west of the blaze. The extra lines were intended to hold the fire if it jumped current containment barriers.

Some of the 1,173 fire personnel battling the blaze were mopping up embers in burned areas to the south and east of the fire.

A total of 85 homes and 60 other structures remained threatened by the blaze Friday. Four outbuildings have burned so far, but no homes have been destroyed. Six firefighters have suffered minor injuries.

Fire investigators have determined the blaze was caused by human activity but were still exploring exactly how. As of Friday, taxpayers had spent $15.1 million on the firefighting effort.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Ventura County Star, Calif.

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