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La Brea Fire stays active

/ Source: Santa Maria Times

As if to prove that fire officials were right in warning that the La Brea Fire is contained but far from out - a very visible plume of smoke darkened the sky east of Santa Maria Wednesday afternoon.

An estimated 1,000-acre flare-up occurred as a red flag warning had been issued for the mountains and foothills stretching from San Luis Obispo County to Los Angeles County, alerting fire officials to expect hot, dry conditions and explosive fire potential until Friday night.

In lower elevations in Los Padres National Forest, temperatures could surpass 100 degrees today, Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Even on the coastline, residents could see temperatures hit the low-90s today, and watch as the mercury climbs even higher Friday, the NWS said.

A strong upper-level, high-pressure system will remain over the Central Coast and Southern California, resulting in high temperatures and very low humidity, according to weather officials.

Crews were cautioned to be aware of the low humidity levels, high temperature and "notorious squirrely winds," said Jay Nichols, a U.S. Forest Service information officer.

"It's not business as usual, there's a heightened sense of awareness for crews out there," Nichols said.

The public should also be

especially cautious during a red flag warning, because it connotes elevated fire danger due to low

humidity and critically dry

vegetation, fire and weather officials said.

Within the fire's containment lines Wednesday, the majority of active burning was in the southwest portion of the La Brea Fire footprint, between La Brea Canyon and Manzanita Mountain.

But flames were still chewing through critically dry vegetation throughout the northern San Rafael Wilderness.

A current total of 538 fire personnel are still working to douse the smoldering remains within the 89,489-acre wildfire, and five helicopters will continue to be on-hand for suppression efforts.

"We're going to have hot spots until it basically starts raining," said Helen Tarbet, a Forest Service information officer.

In preparation for rainy season, hand crews are wielding their tools to rehabilitate the devastated forest land to prevent flooding, debris buildup and mudslides later in the year.

Fire suppression costs so far are estimated at $33.2 million.

The blaze was sparked on Aug. 8 by a cooking fire at a marijuana drug trafficking operation in the forest, according to investigators.

During the fire fight, hundreds of homeowners in the canyons east of Santa Maria and in the Cuyama Valley were evacuated, and a large portion of the national forest was closed to the public.

On Wednesday, Forest Service officials announced that since the fire is fully contained, the emergency closure area of the forest will be reduced.

However, the areas directly affected by the blaze most likely will remain closed until next spring. In addition, the Sisquoc River area from the forest boundary to Wellman Camp will be off limits to the public due to the risk of flash flooding, officials said.

The closure also includes all campgrounds in the Colson area, Sierra Madre Ridge and Aliso Campground.

For more detailed forest closure

information contact the Santa Lucia Ranger District at 925-9538 or

visit www.fs.fed.us/r5/lospadres/conditions.

August 27, 2009