Started on July 1 as an act of arson, the Gap Fire quickly became the most dangerous fire to hit the Santa Barbara front country since 1990’s Paint Fire. When firefighters arrived to West Camino Cielo Road, the blaze had spread less than a quarter of an acre and was nearly extinguished before a sudden wind gust caused the fire to spread rapidly toward Goleta. Nearly 200 personnel accompanied by helicopters and bulldozers were sent out to fight the flames and began evacuations of La Patera and Glen Annie canyons.
By day two, only a few hundred acres had burned, and the fire seemed to be diminishing until another sundowner event fueled 100-foot-high flames.
By day three, the blaze had spread to 2,000 acres and was becoming a substantial threat to much of Goleta. The fire burned through power lines in Glen Annie Canyon, causing loss of power to nearly 150,000 homes from Isla Vista to Montecito, and a state of emergency was declared. Mandatory evacuations were ordered from West Camino Cielo to Cathedral Oaks between Fairview and Patterson, and also for the Haney Tract, Kinevan Ranch, Hidden Valley, and San Marcos Trout Club.
By July 4, there were 800 firefighters with 20 airplanes battling a blaze now spanning 5,500 acres. Firefighters along North Fairview Avenue saved hundreds of houses. By that evening, the fire was burning on three fronts — northward toward Camino Cielo; and east and west toward Highway 154 and downtown Goleta, respectively.
Mandatory evacuations expanded to Farren Road to Highway 154 as 50 mph sundowners threatened 100 homes in the Painted Cave and Trout Club communities.
By the morning of July 5, nearly 8,300 acres had been burned as the number of assigned personnel grew to 2,500. Firefighters held the fire’s progress at West Camino Cielo and along its southern and eastern flanks in Goleta. More favorable weather conditions and brush-clearing helped shift the battle toward Gaviota, but this main fire front was now heading into more difficult terrain.
The fire burned in the hills until July 28, blackending nearly 10,000 acres but causing relatively little structural damage. Firefighters credited the agricultural barrier of green avocado orchards and irrigated soil surrounding Goleta with saving the town.