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1 year after the Sherpa Fire, residents say work still needs to - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

1 year after the Sherpa Fire, residents say work still needs to be done

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It's been one year since a fire scorched thousands of acres and burned for nearly a month west of Goleta.

Hundreds of people and livestock were evacuated during the Sherpa Fire. 

“Initially, we had just heard it would be just a small brush fire and that quickly changed," said Olivia Ward. She lives in Refugio Canyon and is the office manager at Circle Bar B Ranch. 

Dry fuels and sundowner winds caused extreme fire behavior that left more than 7,400 acres burnt.  

“It was high stress, definitely. I was actually heading out of the canyon and I saw about ten firetrucks come through and I thought, 'this isn’t good,'" Ward said. 

Amber Anderson was one of the Public Information Officers on the Sherpa Fire and is also a Fire Inspector for Santa Barbara City Fire.

“Looking back on that fire, it got very big, very quick," she said.

Hundreds of firefighters across California came to help fight the flames. 

“Our firefighters fought very aggressively. It was one of the only fires going on in the state at the time so we were able to get a lot of resources fast," Anderson said. 

More than 300 people were evacuated in multiple canyons. 

“I mean, we could see the flames coming up right over here as I’m bringing stuff down from my house trying to figure out what I’m going to keep, what I’m going to leave. It was just getting higher and higher and higher," Ward said. 

Pat Brown, owner of Circle Bar B Ranch, saw the flames just after the fire started and immediately called for help to evacuate his more than 40 horses. 

“The fire started adjacent to our ranch so I watched the helicopter. There was one fighting it, then a couple more, the winds were already blowing about 15-20 down canyon," he said. 

Brown said the Ranch sustained more than $150,000 in damage. He had a few buildings at the top of the canyon that burned, along with some fencing. 

"We stayed here, we fought the fire when it started spraying embers on buildings, probably didn’t sleep for 4 days, 4 nights," Brown said. 

Some other ranchers were hit hard, too. 

“We lost our front gate, our wall. It did quite a bit of damage," said Leslie Freeman, owner of Freeman Ranch. 

One year later and the Sherpa Fire continues to have lasting effects. Those who live and work in the nearby canyon say there is still a lot of work to be done. Property owners are calling on the county to fix the roads and clean out the creek.

“The creek is gutted out, the roads are in rough shape and the accumulation at the bottom of the canyon on Les Freeman's property again is a big concern," Brown said. 

“Here’s some of the logs down here in the creek, tree logs, brush that came from up the canyon," Freeman pointed out. 

Property owners say the rough winter created massive debris flows of dead trees and boulders that washed out and damaged roads. 

“Well, because when the water comes up, they stack up in a certain place and it plugs the whole creek up and then it goes 5-6 feet over the bridge and runs down the county road," Freeman said 

Officials with Santa Barbara County Public Works say they do corrective maintenance on the roads when they can and there are plans to fix the roads and bridges, but they say it's an environmentally sensitive area and could take 5-10 years and cost up to $6 million. 

“There are plans in place to replace some of the low water crossings and the bridge that you cross to improve the flow and keep the roads open during the storm," said Chris Snedden, Deputy Director of Transportation for Santa Barbara County Public Works. 

With lots of work still to be done and summer starting, firefighters say this anniversary should serve as a reminder. 

“Being one year from the Sherpa Fire and at the very beginning of our fire season, we want to urge homeowners to do what they can to prepare for what could be another bad fire season ahead of us," Anderson said. 

County roads officials say the back escape route on Refugio Canyon will soon be maintained and will reopen this summer for the residents who live there. 

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