By Tom Bolton

Highway 101 was shut down in the Gaviota area Thursday afternoon due to a vegetation fire that may have been sparked by a vehicle accident, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The non-injury crash occurred in the southbound lanes near the Gaviota Tunnel shortly after 3 p.m.

Santa Barbara County fire crews were on scene, assisted by U.S. Forest Service firefighters and an engine from the U.S. Navy that happened to be in the area, heading back from the Northern California wildfires, according to Mike Eliason, a county Fire Department spokesman.

Two county helicopters were brought in to make water drops on the blaze, which was being fanned by gusty winds.

“The winds were howling through that little pass there,” Eliason noted. “No embers got picked up and carried out, or we would have been there for a week.”

​As of 3:50 p.m., forward progress of the flames reportedly had been stopped, Eliason said.

An investigator was on scene trying to confirm the cause of the fire, Eliasons said.

Southbound traffic was being diverted at Highway 1 while northbound motorists were being stopped at Mariposa Reina, the CHP said, and the closure was causing major traffic back-ups in both directions.

As of 4:45 p.m., one lane in each direction had been reopened, but motorists were urged to use caution in the area due to the ongoing firefighting activities.

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

— Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at