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Lanes reopen after storm drain catches fire overnight near Highway 101 in Carpinteria

Fire near Highway 101 on Feb. 19

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. -- The Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District said it's currently investigating multiple fires that broke out overnight near Highway 101 in Carpinteria.

The department said the fires broke out in the storm drain system beneath the highway and the 5700 block of Via Real on both Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

Firefighters reported seeing smoke and responded to the scene just before 6 p.m. on Saturday.

According to Carpinteria-Summerland Fire, firefighters found smoke and flames coming from two manhole covers and another opening under a bridge along Highway 101 between Bailard and Casitas Pass Rd, as well as along the 5700 block of Via Real.

Firefighters shut down the northbound 101 in this area around 6:30 p.m. for safety concerns and firefighting efforts.

The department said it called Southern California Gas to the scene, but determined no gas lines were involved.

The Carpinteria Sanitary District responded to see if a broken sewer line was the cause of fire, but ruled it out.

Carpinteria-Summerland Fire said the storm drain where the fire broke out is lined with a thick plastic material which caused the fire to continue burning with intensity for several hours.

Firefighters extinguished the flames by 7:45 p.m. Saturday by pumping large quantities of water into the storm drain.

Officials reopened the 101 northbound lanes by 9:20 p.m. on Saturday, but Via Real remained closed.

Then, around 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning, the department said that local road construction workers reported seeing smoke coming from the same spot as the earlier flames.

Officials re-closed the northbound lanes from Bailard to Casitas Pass around 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

Carpinteria-Summerland firefighters responded to the scene and sprayed foam into the storm drain to eliminate the fire's oxygen source and extinguish the flames.

The foam came from a Compressed Air Foam System, and as a result of extinguishing the fire, excess foam got into the Carpinteria Creek -- however, local environmentalists and inspectors said the foam is an allowable discharge under state regulations and is expected to dissipate naturally.

Herb Tuyay / KEYT

The department said that the northbound 101 lane closures were lifted by 5 a.m. Sunday morning, but that the 5700 block of Via Real will be closed until a safety assessment is completed.

Both fires are still currently under investigation by the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District.

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