SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Fire and law enforcement officials held a press briefing on the Whittier Fire Sunday afternoon. They said the area burning has not burned in six decades and was an area much very much affected by the drought.
In the same press briefing, officials discussed how an operation to evacuate everyone in the Cachuma Lake area turned into an intense effort to rescue 80 children from becoming victims of a raging fire.
Emergency crews learned that the children were trapped at Circle V Ranch near Rancho Alegre during the initial start of the fire, said Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Eric Peterson. A coordinated rescue effort was launched by Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office, and Santa Barbara County Fire crews.
At one point, the roadway became completely enveloped in flames with trees falling over making the rescue an impossible task.
"We had fire personnel, we had Sheriff's personnel, and Los Padres National Forest personnel all back there keeping those kids safe. And they rode it out with them for hours. Literally hours until it was safe to get them out of there."
Peterson said that the Band of Chumash Indians sent a bus to evacuate those children.
Peterson told everyone gathered at Sunday's press conference that this operation was truly a great story the department is very proud of.
The Circle V Ranch Camp released the following statement regarding their Space Week camp:
On behalf of Circle V Ranch Camp Director Ray Lopez, we are so very grateful to first responders, staff and volunteers who helped safely evacuated ALL our Session 2 campers and staff yesterday (Saturday, July 8, 2017). All Session 2 campers and staff are safe and accounted for and returned to their parents/guardians throughout the counties of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles by 11:15 p.m. on Saturday, 7/8/17.
Due to the Whittier Fire and the closure of Highway 154 until further notice, we regret that we must cancel Session 3 Space Week (July 11-16, 2017). All fees paid will be refunded. The status of future 2017 summer camp sessions will be advised as we closely monitor the situation.
Circle V Ranch Camp has been on 30 acres of leased land from the US Forest Service since 1990. As of this time, we understand from officials that structures have been saved on the camp site itself.
We will continue to update the media and public as soon as we know more information.
Thank you for your continued prayers and positive support.
- Laura Kath, spokesperson
In all, approximately 3,500 people were evacuated as a result of the Whittier Fire.