Whittier Fire burns 90 percent of buildings at The Outdoor School at Rancho Alegre; blaze rages out of control since starting near Lake Cachuma Saturday afternoon

By Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

The Outdoor School at Rancho Alegre was mostly destroyed by the Whittier Fire Saturday,

The Whittier Fire engulfs a Rancho Alegre building in flames Saturday July 8. Photo by Ray Ford/Noozhawk Photo

which burned along the Highway 154 corridor and caused mass evacuations of campers and residents.

Most of the Rancho Alegre buildings reportedly burned to the ground, except for the main dining room.

The site is the home of the Boy Scouts of America, Los Padres Council and this year marks the 52nd year that the scouts have been camping at Rancho Alegre.

Summer camp was scheduled to start on Monday, but has obviously been canceled, said Los Padres Council leaders.

“We are in the process of notifying those planning to attend this camp and are helping make alternative arrangements,”  said Carlos Cortez, scout executive for the Los Padres Council, in a statement Sunday morning.

“We are thankful that no youth members, adult volunteers or staff were harmed,” he said.

Rancho Alegre, at 2680 Highway 154, had fewer than 10 people on the property at the start of the fire, which consisted of permanent year-round staff and three youth camp staff members.

They were evacuated to the Santa Barbara Scout Office where one of the parents picked them up and transported all to their homes in Nipomo, Arroyo Grande and Morro Bay, according to the group’s website.

The Whittier Fire erupted around 1:40 p.m. Saturday near Camp Whittier, at 2400 Highway 154, and may have been sparked by a car fire, according to the California Highway Patrol.

As of Sunday morning, the fire burned 7,800 acres near Lake Cachuma in the Santa Ynez Valley and prompted evacuations along the Highway 154 corridor, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Containment was estimated at 5 percent.

Flames and smoke have been visible throughout Goleta and Santa Barbara, drawing crowds of onlookers and spectacular burnt-orange sunsets.

Cortez planned to head to Rancho Alegre later on Sunday to try to assess the specific amount of damage.

“While we are still assessing the effects on the property, we greatly appreciate our first responders for keeping our community safe.”

“To the best of our knowledge we have lost 90 percent of our structures,” Cortez said.

As of Sunday, the Los Padres Forest Service reported 20 structures had been destroyed and 150 were threatened by the Whittier Fire.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.