Firefighters battling a vegetation blaze that sparked Friday night in northern Goleta and burned 100 acres took advantage of calming winds Saturday to reach 80-percent containment.
As of Saturday afternoon, crews continued to attack the Holiday fire, which began burning in an unincorporated part of the county, north of Cathedral Oaks Road, west of Fairview Avenue and east to Patterson Avenue. Full containment is expected by Wednesday.
Crews gained enough ground Saturday to lift many mandatory evacuation orders and had hoped to repopulate the region by Sunday evening.
Had residents not evacuated as quickly as they did, fatalities could have occurred, officials said during a press conference Saturday afternoon in Goleta.
Damaged and destroyed structures still are being assessed and exact numbers will be released later, according to public information officer Mike Eliason.
"We tragically lost some homes and it's devastating to our community, said Matt Farris, deputy incident commander of the local incident management team. "We want everyone to move back into their homes safely."
The cause of the fire is still unknown at this time. While initial dispatch reports indicated that the blaze began in a structure and spread to nearby vegetation, investigators have yet to make that determination, said County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni.
There are currently 500 firefighters assigned to battle the fire, with no injuries reported.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County on Saturday due to the effects of the fire, which in addition to the destruction and evacuations threatened critical infrastructure and caused power outages.
The Federal Emergency Agency has granted a fire management assistance grant to assist with the mitigation, management and control of the fire, according to the governor's proclamation.
During a press conference Saturday in Goleta, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown strongly advised residents returning home Saturday to monitor the situation and be prepared to evacuate if conditions change.
"We want to thank the residents for leaving quickly before being told to evacuate, and those that followed instructions when told to evacuate," Brown said. "If you live in Goleta foothills, please be aware. Keep your phone charged and with you at all times."
Deputies and law enforcement personnel will continue to provide extra patrols in remaining mandatory evacuation areas and enforcing roadblocks.
"We want to thank everyone in the community for their support as we work through yet another fire incident in our county," Brown said. "Goleta is a very special place and we want our community members to know we're with you."
Air quality for the fire area is currently moderate to good, according to emergency medical services agency director Nick Clay. Those living near the Holiday fire who are sensitive to smoke should take precaution and avoid being outside.
For those still under mandatory evacuation orders, an evacuation center had been set up at the Goleta Valley Community Center at 5679 Hollister Ave. Large animals can be taken to the Earl Warren Showgrounds, and small animals can be taken to the Santa Barbara Animal Shelter at 5473 Overpass Road.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is expected the ratify the proclamation of a local emergency during its next meeting Tuesday. The proclamation will ensure all county resources are available for fire control efforts and supporting activities, and will also help facilitate potential state funding.
“Protecting our residents, firefighters, and other first responders is the county's top priority, as well as preventing damage to structures, infrastructure, and our agricultural resources,” said Mona Miyasato, county executive officer.
Santa Barbara County had worked closely with the Governor's Office to get a significant amount of money into the budget in anticipation of wildfires, according to state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who attended Saturday's press conference.
"We're in a 12-months-a-year fire season, and we need additional money to contract with firefighting agencies to do this on a year-round basis," Jackson explained. "The ability to pre-position resources is critical -- it takes resources to hire and train people, provide the kinds of equipment necessary to come in and proactively put out a fire before it expands to another devastating level like the Thomas fire.
For information and incident updates on the Holiday fire, go to www.readysbc.org. The public also may call 211 or text their ZIP code to 898-211. Those outside the 805 area code may call toll-free 800-400-1572.