The Jesusita Fire began on May 5 and burned until May 18, blackening 8,733 acres. The fire destroyed 80 homes and 79 outbuildings and commercial properties and was called the worst disaster in 25 years by Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.
The fire was started by accident when contractors working on an unpermitted clearing of the Jesusita Trail left hot equipment unattended in dry grass. Aided by 50 mph winds, the blaze quickly grew to 150 acres and a mandatory evacuation was issued for 1,200 homes north of Foothill Road, east of Morada Lane, and west of El Cielito and Gibraltar roads.
Heavy winds in the night caused the fire to grow rapidly and by the next morning the fire had exploded in two directions, burning 20 homes in San Roque Canyon to the west and bearing down on the Tea Fire burn scar to the east. Mandatory evacuations were expanded to include most of San Roque and Mission Canyon, as well as much of the Upper Riviera to State Street.
High winds continued that night and by morning of May 7, the wildfire had expanded to 3,500 acres. On the western flank, evacuations were again expanded to include the areas of De La Vina, Vernon, and Los Positas, as well as the area along Highway 101, Upper State Street and Highway 154. On the eastern flank, the areas of Milpas Street to San Ysidro Road and all the way up to Camino Cielo were evacuated as the fire pressed towards Montecito. In total, 30,000 residents were temporarily displaced.
More strong winds made things worse. The following morning, Chief Andrew DiMizio explained that “all hell broke loose” overnight as the blaze expanded in both directions in just a few hours. Total acreage burned had reached 8,700. Fortunately, staring on May 9, the situation began to improve as cool and humid weather came off the ocean and sundowners subsided. With nearly 4,000 firefighters, 12 airplanes, and 15 helicopters now gaining the upper hand, containment increased to 40%. The fire continued to burn into uninhabited backcountry, and the city of Santa Barbara was no longer in danger. The fire continued to smolder until it was finally extinguished on May 18. It caused an estimated $20 million in damages.