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Whittier fire crests Gato Canyon

Flames from the Whittier fire crest ridge above Gato Canyon in this photo taken July 14, 2017.

A passenger vehicle being driving through tall grass is being blamed for igniting the 18,430-acre Whittier fire last July, Los Padres National Forest officials announced Monday.

An investigation into the cause of the fire zeroed in on the vehicle driving on a hillside above Camp Whittier, a Los Padres spokesman said. The camp is located in the forest across Highway 154 from Cachuma Lake.

No criminal charges have been filed, and no additional information about the investigation is being released because of the driver’s age, the spokesman said.

The Whittier fire broke out July 8 on Bureau of Reclamation land and quickly spread into national forest lands on the Santa Barbara Ranger District, in the process damaging Camp Whittier, nearly destroying Rancho Alegre Boy Scout Camp and killing all the animals in the Nature Center, trapping more than 60 campers and counselors and destroying two buildings at Circle V Ranch Camp and destroying 16 homes and 30 outbuildings.

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Although the fire did not increase in size after July 20, it was not declared fully contained until Oct. 5.