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A rare plant and a president's ranch are threatened as Alisal fire grows

Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The facility remains in a “safe, preserved state,” and officials are watching the fire closely, she said.

Exxon has been exploring the possibility of revitalizing the facility and trucking the oil along the Central Coast, prompting controversy locally.

The fire this week also surrounded Tajiguas Landfill, which Santa Barbara County officials noted is far more than a dump: In June, the county completed a two-year, $150 million project that transformed portions of the facility into a resource recovery center, replete with an anaerobic digester that converts methane from organic material into energy.

On Tuesday, areas of the landfill smoldered and burned after a flare-up ignited in the biofilter’s uncovered concrete structure, which is filled with wood chips.

Meanwhile, some environmental groups are watching the fire closely as it burns into chaparral ecosystems and around a rare plant species known as Refugio manzanita. The shrubs are endemic to Santa Barbara County and found only between 1,000- and 3,200-foot elevations in the Santa Ynez Mountains, according to Los Padres ForestWatch.

After sparking Monday afternoon, the Alisal fire grew hundreds of acres within hours as sundowner winds moved in.


“What happened (Monday) was a completely wind-driven event,” said Andrew Madsen, spokesman for Los Padres National Forest. “When you’ve got real high winds like that, there’s nothing that helps. Everybody just gets out of the way.”

Fire crews on Wednesday remained cautiously optimistic after calmer morning conditions enabled them to make some aerial attacks on the fire, Madsen said.

More erratic winds are forecast for the area, which could ground the planes and continue to stymie firefighting efforts, Los Padres National Forest Fire Chief Jim Harris said during the news conference.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joan Hartmann said Wednesday that nearly all efforts will be focused on preserving the area’s “long legacy of ranching and farming (and) amazing cultural and natural resources.”

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