McMurray Fire extinguished with zero casualties and structural damage

Abbie Leffler, Staff Writer

On Monday, Sept. 9, a fire broke out at around 3:15 p.m. northeast of Buellton, about an hour away from Westmont.

The blaze, which is rumored to have started near McMurray Road, has been dubbed the McMurray Fire. An abundance of firefighters rushed to contain it as quickly as possible and ensure that no one in the surrounding areas was in any danger.

As of Saturday, Sept. 14th, the fire has been 100% contained, but not before it charred 200 acres of precious land. The cause of the fire is unknown and under investigation, but the California Highway Patrol’s dispatch log indicated a malfunctioning car on the highway might have had a hand in sparking the flames.

The rapid spread of the fire was also likely a result of the fire-breeding weather that Santa Barbara County has been experiencing lately. 

The blaze, although small, is an indication that fire season is in full swing. Fire season in Southern California is heightened in the late summer and early fall because the water content in the brush and grass decreases dramatically. By late summer, the fuel for the fire is at its driest.

This season also brings an increase in the frequency of Santa Ana winds, which increase fire danger when coupled with the hot temperatures.

A red flag warning was issued on Sept. 7 and then again on Sept. 8 in some parts of the county because of a combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and elevated warmer temperatures. Those factors make for some extreme fire behavior. Residents in red flag areas should take note when those conditions occur.

The McMurray fire burned in the dry brush along U.S. Highway 101. A portion of the highway was closed so the fire could be fought properly. A major backup in traffic ensued as a result of the closure. 

U.S. Highway 101 has since been reopened thanks to the dedicated work of 600 firefighters and resources from multiple agencies, fire tankers, and three helicopters. 

Mandatory evacuations for surrounding areas were ordered after the initial breakout of the McMurray fire, but were cancelled shortly thereafter because the firefighters had made serious progress on the flames. 

A second fire also started near state Route 1, but firefighters were quick to get to the scene and extinguish it. Firefighters worked to keep the fire below the hilltops. If the blaze had reached the upper hilltops, the higher winds on top could have fanned the flames into a downhill race for the neighborhoods below. 

Early on, fire officials estimated the fire had the potential to burn over 700 acres, but that number was greatly decreased as the situation progressed, and there have been no casualties.

Helicopters continued making water drops on Tuesday, Sept. 10 and some 200 firefighters were assigned to look after the area the blaze had already burned to ensure that it was actually contained. 

The fire was reported as being 60% contained by last Wednesday night, which is excellent news for those in the surrounding areas and for the general public. 

Especially in dry, hot Southern California weather conditions, any fire has the potential to spin out of control, so residents still reeling from previous disasters are relieved for the quick containment of the McMurray fire. The high winds and hot weather continued to ensue into the week, and fire danger was still elevated, but the initial danger had since passed. 

In addition to closing parts of the highway, the fire caused over 10,000 people in Santa Barbara County, including Westmont College, to be without power for a brief period. The power was shut off to reduce fire risk and for safety purposes, but was shortly turned back on when the containment of the fire was underway. 

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reports that though threatened, no structures have been damaged or destroyed by the fire. As of Saturday, Sept. 14, the McMurray fire has been extinguished.