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20 Years Ago… the Painted Cave Fire

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Painted Cave Fire.

“On June 27, 1990 at 6:02 pm a fire started up in the mountains near a place called Painted Cave. A long drought had made the brush very dry, and a several day heat wave was further drying up the area. Just as the sun was setting, strong winds began blowing the fire down the mountain towards town.

Two hours later the fire had done the impossible. It had traveled 5 miles downhill cutting a swath between Goleta and Santa Barbara setting afire entire neighborhoods in it’s path. The fire jumped the combination of our 6 lane freeway and the two side roads, Calle Real and Hollister and continued burning down stores, restaurants, businesses, apartment buildings, and more houses on the other side. All roads between Santa Barbara and Goleta were blocked by the fire, it was impossible to get from one side to the other.

Entire neighborhoods were burning to the ground, hundreds of houses were already lost, residents evacuated with little or no time to save any precious belongings. It appeared nothing but the Pacific Ocean itself was going to stop this fire. Finally, later that night, the winds died down and the fire was brought to a halt at the edge of Hope Ranch, about 2 miles from the ocean. Dawn broke the next morning on a very eerie sight. There was nothing but ashes where entire neighborhoods had stood the day before. 5000 acres, 440 houses, 28 apartment complexes, and 30 other structures were lost. There were still visible flames on the black burnt mountain range. The fire continued to burn in the mountains for several days before finally being extinguished.

Authorities say an incendiary device was found where the fire started — it was arson, and the arsonist has never been found. This continues to be one of the worst disasters ever in the history of Santa Barbara.” - Description written by David Deley

4 Responses to “20 Years Ago… the Painted Cave Fire”

  1. Didn’t a young woman die in this fire? This experience will never leave my memory. I remember escaping Santa Barbara for Carpinteria and looking back toward town to see the city covered by an incredibly huge black sky of smoke…eerily awesome!

  2. Yes, one woman died… she was trying to outrun/ hide from the blaze in a creek.

  3. The ferocity and time it took for the blaze, fueled by Santa Ana winds, to make its way down the mountain remains etched in this editor’s mind.