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A prescribed burn that started Tuesday on a ranch near Los Alamos escaped control about 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, prompting a call for multiple fire engines and aerial tankers to respond as the uncontrolled blaze quickly grew, according to emergency radio traffic.

Although radio broadcasts from firefighters said it went from 20 to 50 acres in a short time, public information officer Mike Eliason said it was 10 to 20 acres on his Twitter account. 

The controlled burn for wildfire risk reduction and rangeland improvement was planned to last three days, representatives for Santa Barbara County Fire Department and Air Pollution Control District said.

The burn is taking place on the Bar M Ranch, also known as the Barham Ranch, about 4 miles southeast of Los Alamos on Highway 101.

It became the Bar fire once it escaped control, but firefighters said forward movement of the fire seemed to be slowing shortly after 4 p.m.

No additional information was immediately available.

The prescribed burn was scheduled to start Wednesday but was moved up a day and was to continue through Thursday as conditions allow, according to a release from Capt. Daniel Bertucelli of County Fire and Lyz Hoffman of the APCD.

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The goal is to burn 557 acres of oak woodland, chaparral and sage, as conditions allow, to remove old-growth vegetation, a prime fuel for wildfires Bertucelli said.

Although it’s being planned and conducted on private land, the burn has been coordinated with County Fire, the APCD and the California Air Resources Board to minimize the impacts of smoke on surrounding communities.

The APCD reviewed the smoke management plan and provided conditions to minimize air quality impacts, Hoffman said.

A portable air monitor has been set up in Los Olivos to keep track of air quality, and the data will be available on the APCD website at www.OurAir.org/todays-air-quality/, Hoffman said.

However, if residents see or smell smoke they should take precautions to avoid health impacts, including limiting strenuous outdoor activity and remaining indoors as much as possible.

Hoffman said symptoms of smoke exposure can include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chest tightness or pain, nausea and unusual fatigue or lightheadedness.

Motorists also are advised to use caution when driving near the prescribed burn.

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This report was compiled by Mike Hodgson, associate editor for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. He can be reached at mhodgson@leecentralcoastnews.com.

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