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Crews Battle 1,400-Acre Brush Fire Burning In Santa Barbara's Refugio Canyon

GOLETA ( — A massive brush fire burning across 1,400 acres in Refugio Canyon remained at zero percent containment Thursday afternoon.

The wind-driven Sherpa Fire had consumed approximately 1,400 acres and continued burning in steep and rugged terrain, according to Santa Barbara County Fire officials.

As of mid-afternoon, the fire was burning less than a mile from Highway 101 near the Refugio Campground.

Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for El Capitan Canyon, El Capitan Ranch, El Capitan State Beach, Refugio State Beach, Refugio Canyon, Venadito Canyon and Las Flores Canyon.

While Highway 101 remained open in both directions, fire officials warned that could change with "little or no notice".

The American Red Cross has opened two shelters to assist displaced residents. The shelters are located at 300 North Turnpike Road and 2975 East Highway 246.

The fire broke out around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the top of Refugio Road, which is located about a quarter-mile away from the 101 Freeway.

Authorities have dubbed the incident as the Sherpa Fire because it erupted near Scherpa Ranch.

CBS2's Amy Johnson spoke to residents who hope their residences and property will be there when they return home.

Firefighters are also a bit under the gun, she reeported, because temperatures are expected to reach triple digits this weekend which will make fighting the blaze that much harder.

"It was pretty scary. We could see flames at the top [of the] ridge, surrounding the ranch," said evacuee Kathy Brown, "so it was very scary."

Her family owns the 1,000-acre Circle Bar B Guest Ranch. They evacuated last night and said it wasn't easy.

"We have 50 horses that we had to get out," she said, "and we had to get our guests out, our overnight guests, first, and then we had to get the horses out, our employees out and then we got out."

Their property is one of about 1,000 being threatened by the flames.

"This has been a significant and challenging fire," said Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Eric Peterson. "It's buring in an area notorious for life and property loss. structural loss and fuels that have not burned for 70 years."

Brown is hoping her ranch is spared.

"The ranch has been in my family for 77 years," she says, "we just hope we get through this and don't lose any structures."

No injuries have been reported.

On Thursday evening, the fire jumped forcing the closure of the 101 Freeway in the area.

KCAL9's Tom Wait spoke to drivers who found themselves stuck. There were no reports of damage or injury.

"It's insane," said one man, "it's like nothing I've ever seen. It's terrifying, really."

"It was very dangerous, very dangerous," said motorist Joe Cruz.  "So my best thing would be to go around and try not to go through."

Wait reported  a literal vortex of flames -- "it looked like a fire tornado" -- jumped the freeway and it was scary for witnesses.

Several firefighters also had to scramble to safety as the vortex passed them by, literally out of nowhere and within seconds.

A helicopter dropped water on several vehicles to keep them from catching fire. No injuries or damages to cars were reported.

"It's really pretty horrible," said driver Chris Pelonis, "I'm just trying to get home ... my ranch is apparently okay."

Residents were urged to monitor the status of the fire on the County of Santa Barbara website.

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