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Hwy. 166 reopens as firefighters work blaze near Rock Front Ranch; fire now 30-percent contained

Hwy. 166 reopens as firefighters work blaze near Rock Front Ranch; fire now 30-percent contained

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Highway 166 reopened Monday afternoon as fire crews continued to fight a slow-moving vegetation fire near Rock Front Ranch, east of Santa Maria, which had burned 875 acres and was 30-percent contained.

The blaze, dubbed the Front fire, broke out about 1:30 p.m. Sunday and prompted the closure of Highway 166 from highways 101 to 33 east of Cuyama. Burning in brush, short grass and chaparral, the fire was downsized from an earlier 1,000-acre estimate as a result of better mapping.

Fueled by high temperatures, Los Padres National Forest firefighters, with assistance from Santa Barbara County Fire, have yet to determine the cause of the fire. Approximately 600 fire personnel and five helicopters were working the fire.

Though residential evacuations were not ordered, crews closed the Sierra Madre Road area and told campers and hunters to leave the area in the event the fire crossed Highway 166.

Lyz Hoffman, spokesperson for the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, said the fire slightly degraded air quality throughout the area. As of Monday afternoon, elevated levels of small particulate matter were reported in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, Lompoc and Goleta.

“Typically, we see those readings reflected when there are smoky conditions,” Hoffman explained. “Most people should be OK to be outside, but if they’re especially sensitive they should keep an eye on the conditions around [them.]”

Conditions for the region are usually good, Hoffman said, but regional fires often degrade that. Projections for Tuesday also show moderate particulate matter in the air, but that could change depending on containment of the Front fire and the effect of wind patterns on the area.

Smoke and highway closures did not affect students in the Cuyama Joint Unified School District, who returned to school Monday morning. Despite nearby road closures affecting one of the district’s bus routes, Superintendent Stephen Bluestein said no students residing in the affected areas missed class as a result.

“Everyone was on-task and learning Monday morning,” Bluestein said.

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