McMurray fire near Buellton reaches 40% containment

After firefighting efforts continued overnight, the McMurray fire near Buellton reached 40% containment Tuesday afternoon after scorching over 200 acres. 

Around 3:15 p.m. Monday, firefighters first responded to a report of a vegetation fire burning along Highway 101 near Buellton.

After arriving, firefighters determined that there were at least three separate vegetation fires in the area, and crews asked for a second alarm to be sounded.

The fires, which expanded from 5 to 200 acres over Monday afternoon, were stretched along the east side of Highway 101 between McMurray Road in Buellton and the Highway 154 interchange near Los Olivos and later dubbed the McMurray fire. 

On Monday afternoon, mandatory evacuations orders were issued for the areas northeast of Buellton, and onramps to northbound Highway 101 from Highway 246 and Damassa Road in Buellton were closed, temporarily stopping northbound traffic in the area.

The evacuation orders were lifted Monday night.

Northbound Highway 101, which was reduced to one open lane, was fully opened by 6 p.m Tuesday.

County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said 200 firefighters were on the fire lines Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday evening, County Fire spokesman Capt. Daniel Bertucelli said around 50 firefighters would continue to battle the flames overnight, reinforcing the line and mopping up hot spots. 

Around 100 firefighters would be on site Wednesday, Bertucelli said. 

At the peak, 600 firefighters, bulldozers and aerial tankers were battling the blaze, with hand crews and equipment provided by departments from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles County, said Hartwig.

"It's great to have your neighbors say 'what do you need' and 'it's on its way,'" Hartwig said. 

One firefighter injured his eye while fighting the McMurray fire, but he has received treatment and is back at work, Bertucelli said. 


Mountain lion spotted at Hancock College's Lompoc campus

A mountain lion was reportedly spotted at the Hancock College Lompoc Valley Center on Tuesday morning, prompting students, faculty and staff to be encouraged to stay indoors.

The school received a report of a confirmed mountain lion sighting around 11:30 a.m. The animal was reportedly spotted on the northwest side of the campus, near the adjacent hiking trails between the school and Highway 1. The mountain lion was last seen traveling northbound and away from campus, according to Hancock public affairs, which noted that a shelter-in-place was not enacted.

“The Lompoc Police Department and the Santa Barbara [County] Sheriff’s Office were notified and are working in partnership with the Allan Hancock College District Police Department,” read a portion of a statement from Hancock College. “As a precaution, the college has also placed warning signs on the LVC campus. Information on what to do in the event of a mountain lion sighting was also distributed to staff, faculty and students via email.”

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was notified about the sighting and determined that the incident was a natural occurrence in the animal’s natural domain, the school reported.

The college is urging the community to remain vigilant when outdoors, and asks that any mountain lion sightings on or near Hancock campuses be reported immediately to the Hancock College District Police Department at 805-922-6966, ext. 3911, for the Santa Maria campus, or 805-735-3366, ext. 5911, at the Lompoc Valley Center.


Hwy 154 crash, fire leave two with minor injuries

An elderly man and woman from Woodland Hills were injured Tuesday afternoon when their car crashed and caught fire on Highway 154 near San Marcos Pass, closing one lane for about 30 minutes, according to the California Highway Patrol.

A 2017 Ford Focus driven by Felipe Durban, 79, was eastbound on the highway east of San Marcos Road about 1:25 p.m. when it veered right, struck a drainage culvert and became disabled on the dirt shoulder, said Jonathan Gutierrez, public information officer for the Santa Barbara Area Office of the CHP.

Following the crash, the engine compartment burst into flames, which were smothered with fire extinguishers wielded by witnesses, who also helped the couple out of the vehicle, Gutierrez said.

Durban suffered minor injuries to his back and face, while passenger Teresita Durban also suffered minor injuries and complained of pain to her chest.

Both were transported by AMR ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment.

The eastbound lane of Highway 154 was closed for about half an hour, with vehicle traffic alternating use of the westbound lane while the couple were examined and transported and the wreckage could be removed.

In addition to the CHP and AMR, Santa Barbara County Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service units responded to the incident.

Gutierrez said the circumstances of the crash are under investigation by the CHP, but neither drugs nor alcohol are suspected as contributing factors.

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