The Whittier fire burning near Cachuma Lake and above Goleta lost containment early Saturday due to a shifting weather pattern, Sundowner winds and soaring temperatures. 

As of Saturday evening, the Whittier fire, which has been burning since July 8, has increased in size from 13,199 acres to 17,364 acres. Containment, which was at 52 percent, is now only 36 percent. Eight residences and 12 outbuildings have been burned.

About 2,700 people have been evacuated due to the blaze, according to officials. 

Mandatory evacuations are in place for Highway 154 from Armour Ranch on the west side to the east side of Paradise Road. West Camino Cielo at Highway 154 to Winchester Gun Club, Kinevan Road and all of Winchester Canyon Road excluding the community of Wagon Wheel, Langlo Ranch Road and Winchester Commons west to El Capitan Ranch Road are also under mandatory evacuation. In addition, Calle Real north to West Camino Cielo from Winchester Canyon Road on the east to El Capitan Ranch Road on the west is also under mandatory evacuation. 

Paradise Canyon Road from Highway 154 east to the first river crossing, Rosario Park and all of Stagecoach Road and Farren Road and Las Varas Canyon Road are also included in the evacuation order. 

Highway 154 is closed from Highway 246 to Foothill Road. 

Officials said that overnight Friday into Saturday, the fire grew significantly on the southwestern flank, pushed by Sundowner winds. Throughout the day Saturday, the fire continued to creep down slope on the eastern, western and southern edges of the fire. 

Crews working on the eastern edge of the fire are attempting to keep the fire from reaching Bear Creek. Meanwhile, the southwestern corner of the fire has burned into last year's Sherpa fire burn area and stalled due to lack of fuels.

Air attacks continued Saturday, supporting crews who are focusing on structure defense as they continue to build new firelines and improve existing lines. 

Currently, there are about 1,924 total personnel attacking the Whittier blaze, with 39 fire crews, 145 fire engines, 30 water tenders, four masticators, six fixed-wing aircraft, 14 helicopters and 18 bulldozers. 

High-pressure, dry air remained over the area Saturday, creating conditions for gusty and locally strong Sundowner winds that were predicted to possibly push the fire toward populated areas Saturday evening. Gusts were expected to reach 35 mph.

The slope that the Whittier fire is charring is comprised of oak trees and brush that has't burned since the Refugio fire in 1995, officials said. Over the last several years, these fuels have been stressed by the severe drought conditions and a high percentage of the fuel bed is dead. The combination of old, dry fuels with a newly cured heavy grass crop contributed to the rapid growth of the fire, officials said. 

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Large old oak trees are continuing to burn well after the fire has passed, leaving hazardous snags along highways and firelines.

The American Red Cross has opened evacuation shelters at San Marcos High School, located at 4750 Hollister Ave. in Goleta, and Santa Ynez Elementary School, 3325 Pine St. in Santa Ynez.

For help with animal evacuation, contact the Animal Services Hotline at 681-4332. The Santa Barbara Humane Society, 5399 Overpass Road in Santa Barbara, is also available to assist evacuees with small animals. 

The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District has issued a health warning for smoke and ash for the entire county that will remain in effect through Monday. To check on the air quality visit www.ourair.org/todays-air-quality

As of Saturday night, the Alamo blaze, which sparked the afternoon of July 6, has reached 94-percent containment at 28,687 acres, Cal Fire said. Expected containment should be in a week. 

On Saturday, firefighters continued to make progress toward full containment of the blaze. Crews will remain along the perimeter into next week to remove all firefighting equipment. 

The cause of both fires remain under investigation.

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

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