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Ongoing investigation into storm drain fires in Carpinteria

By Christina Atchison
Feb 20, 2022 at 07:39 PM

CARPINTERIA, CA – Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District is currently investigating fires that broke out in the storm drain system beneath Highway 101 and the 5700 block of Via Real on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 19 and early morning hours of Sunday, Feb. 20.

Carpinteria-Summerland firefighters were out picking up dinner Saturday evening when they noticed smoke, called it into the South Coast Dispatch Center and responded to the scene at approximately 5:55 p.m. Upon arrival, firefighters found smoke and flames coming from two manhole covers and another opening under a bridge along Highway 101 between Bailard and Casitas Pass Rd, as well as along the 5700 block of Via Real.

Southern California Gas was called to the scene and determined no gas lines were involved in the incident.

Carpinteria Sanitary District also responded to investigate whether a broken sewer line could be the source of the fire but that was also ruled out.

Due to firefighting efforts and safety concerns, Highway 101 northbound was shut down at approximately 6:30 p.m. from Bailard to Casitas Pass Rd. The 5700 block of Via Real was also closed to traffic.

The storm drain where the fire occurred is lined with a thick plastic material which caused the fire to continue burning with intensity for several hours. Firefighters were able to gain control and extinguish the flames by 7:45 p.m. Saturday by pumping large quantities of water into the storm drain.

Fire officials coordinated with Caltrans and CHP to reopen the northbound lanes of Highway 101 by 9:20 p.m. Saturday. However, Via Real remained closed.

During the first incident, Carpinteria-Summerland Fire was assisted by Montecito Fire Department, Santa Barbara City Fire Department and Ventura County Fire Department. Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies and CHP officers also responded to the scene to assist with traffic control.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. Sunday, local road construction workers reported seeing smoke coming from the storm drain system in the same area.

The closure of Highway 101 northbound from Bailard to Casitas Pass Rd. was reissued to allow for emergency operations at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

Carpinteria-Summerland firefighters responded to the scene and requested Montecito Fire’s engine that is specially equipped with a Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS). Firefighters sprayed the foam into the storm drain to eliminate the fire’s oxygen source and successfully extinguish it.

As a result of this firefighting tactic, foam entered Carpinteria Creek. Environmentalists from the City of Carpinteria and a Santa Barbara County Hazmat inspector determined that the firefighting foam material is an allowable discharge under the State Water Board’s regulations. It is expected to dissipate naturally.

By 5 a.m. Sunday, the closure of Highway 101 northbound was lifted.

The 5700 block of Via Real will be closed until a safety assessment is completed. At this time, community members are asked to please abide by the closure due to potential safety issues along that stretch of road.

Both fires are currently being investigated by Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District. Updates will be provided as they become available.

This incident update was compiled by the Montecito Fire public information office, in coordination with the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District. For media questions, please contact Montecito Fire Public Information Officer Christina Favuzzi at 805-680-5526 or [email protected] or Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Chief Greg Fish at 818-355-8471 or [email protected].



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