H-CENTRAL COAST

May 31, 2013 8:37 PM

Counting down 60 top stories of 60 years: #1

We've reached number one in our countdown of the 60 top local stories of the past 60 years. It's something that affects us nearly every year here on the Central Coast. This season is no exception.

We're talking about wildfires.

On July 1, 1985, the Las Pilitas Fire broke out near Santa Margarita Lake.

It was expected to be contained by July 7, but the morning of July 8 brought high temperatures and strong winds. It pushed flames down to the eastern outskirts of the city of San Luis Obispo.

It was eventually contained on July 11 after burning 75,000 acres and destroying 24 buildings and five vehicles.

The Painted Cave Fire in 1990 burned 5,000 acres, 440 homes, 28 apartment complexes, and 30 other buildings.

It started around sunset on June 27 in the mountains of southern Santa Barbara County. Temperatures were in the hundreds that day, and in just two hours, strong winds blew the fire five miles downhill.

The Painted Cave Fire jumped the six-lane freeway and blocked almost all roads between Santa Barbara and Goleta. Authorities later declared it an arson fire.

More than 1,700 firefighters rushed to San Luis Obispo to fight the Highway 41 Fire of 1994. That fire was set by an arsonist on August 14 near a Morro Bay campground.

In a six hour span it swept through 30,000 acres fueled by 100 degree heat. The city of Santa Margarita was evacuated, along with Cal Poly's campus.

A 35-mile section of Highway 101 was closed, as well as Highway 41. The fire came within several hundred yards of the California Men's Colony. Overall the fire destroyed 42 homes and nearly 50,000 acres.

The second largest wildfire in California history burned in 2007. The Zaca Fire started on the 4th of July and continued for four months. It burned more than 240,000 acres.

Workers repairing a pipeline about 15 miles northeast of Buellton accidentally sparked the fire. One outbuilding was destroyed and 43 people were injured.

The next historic wildfire on the Central Coast: The Gap Fire of 2008. It started on July 1 in the Los Padres National Forest in southern Santa Barbara County.

The wildfire grew to 1,200 acres in just 24 hours. It burned nearly 9,500 acres before it was fully contained on July 28.

A 16-year old was arrested months later for starting the fire.

The Tea Fire later in 2008 burned nearly 2,000 acres in the Montecito area over a five day span.

It started on November 13. Flames destroyed more than 200 homes. Ten Santa Barbara City College students started the fire. They thought they had fully extinguished their bonfire at the Tea Garden House.

Just six month later, the Jesusita Fire, in the hills of Santa Barbara rounds out our top 60 countdown. It was sparked on May 5, 2009.

Two men were accused of starting the fire that burned more than 8,700 acres when they used gas-powered tools to clear brush near a trail in the Cathedral Peak area. Nearly 6,000 properties were evacuated, affecting an estimated 15,000 people. Fighting the fire cost an estimated $17 million.

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