Car Driving Through Tall Grass Ignited the Whittier Fire

The Whittier Fire burns over the Santa Ynez Range towards El Capitan after igniting near Camp Whittier a few days prior.

Brandon Yadegari

The Whittier Fire burns over the Santa Ynez Range towards El Capitan after igniting near Camp Whittier a few days prior.

Today, almost six months after the Whittier Fire erupted in the Santa Ynez Mountain Range and took the name of nearby Camp Whittier, Los Padres National Forest officials announced that an investigation into the cause of the wildfire has been completed. Investigators determined that a passenger vehicle driving through tall grass on a hillside above Camp Whittier ignited the fire on July 8, a particularly hot and windy summer day. Forest officials declined to release additional details about the driver, citing his or her age, but noted that no criminal charges have been filed.

In its first hours of life, the Whittier Fire scorched thousands of acres of chaparral and oak, trapping some 90 children and their counselors at Camp Whittier to the south of Highway 154. Hundreds of campers at nearby Lake Cachuma were quickly evacuated as the fire grew and eventually burned over 18,000 acres, threatening communities from Refugio to Goleta. Due to rough terrain and dry weather, it took nearly three months for incident commanders to fully contain the blaze, which continues to create water quality challenges for nearby Lake Cachuma.

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