May 15, 2010 9:27 PM by Ariel Wesler
More than 80 firefighters are trying to contain a 500 acre blaze in the canyons off Highway 166.
It's being called the Cottonwood Fire. It started around 9:20 this morning after a man driving a U-Haul truck on Highway 166 says his catalytic converter sparked. By the time he noticed, there was no stopping the flames. The fire is 40 percent contained but crews say it has the potential to spread at least 1,000 acres before they can put the flames out.
Ron Quintana never expected his U-Haul truck to move flames rapidly across the hillsides near New Cuyama.
"It started, you know, popping and acting up," Quintana said.
Then, it died and Quintana noticed something else was wrong.
"I looked back and right alongside the roadway, there was grass like this and there was fire going," he said.
The wildfire spread quickly through the grassy brush. With fire season not yet in full swing, wildland crews weren't supposed to start until Monday--limiting resources.
"We were scattering to get a lot of the engines out and the engines that we do have first on scene were the larger engines that have a hard time driving on it," said CAL FIRE Batallison Chief Bill Fisher.
So, fire crews battled the flames from the air as smoke poured into the skies. For the first couple hours, only one water-dropping helicopter was on scene. Shifting winds then added more challenges.
"We got a completely 180 degree change of the fire," Fisher said.
That pushed it from west to east and towards the Carrizo Plain National Monument, but no homes are threatened.
"If you're pulling your vehicle off the highway, you gotta make sure that you're in a clear area and that you're not over a grassland," Fisher said.
The Carrizo Plains are home to a diverse community of wildlife and plant species. It's also an important part of Native American culture.
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