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Zaca fire nearly contained 

Fire officials are hopeful that they've all but contained the second largest wildfire in state history.

As of Aug. 29, officials had called the Zaca fire, which has burned through nearly a quarter million acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties since it was sparked on a construction site July 4, at least 95 percent contained.

So why did this one get so big?

"It's the same three things on any fire: terrain, fuels, and weather," said U.S. Forest Service Spokesman Don Ferguson "All of those things were really stacked up well on this fire."

Not only was the terrain largely inaccessible, he said, but much of the Los Padres National Forest land hadn't seen fire in 100 years. Wind was a factor: The fire's footprint spread to the southeast, mirroring wind directions.

The fire has cost more than $108 million and at times there have been more than 3,000 people battling it. Dozens of firefighters have been injured, mostly by heat exhaustion, bee stings, or poison oak, as well as several injuries from falls or falling boulders, said Los Padres National Forest spokeswoman Donna Toth.

But among all of the statistics, one is especially staggering: In the entire fire, only one building has been burned, an uninhabited "outbuilding."

"They just played this strong defensive game, steering it past the communities," Ferguson said.

Meanwhile, new teams of scientists, archaeologists, and engineers are joining fire crews at work since July 4. The newcomers' role is to assess the long-term impact of the fire.

The teams will spend the next few weeks putting together an initial assessment of potential flooding problems and other environmental fallout from the nearly two-month-old fire.

Their assignments will keep them busy for as long as the next five years measuring the long-term impact of the Zaca fire, Toth said.

"Their task is to assess the risk to downstream resources," Toth said. "Another light winter will have some mercy on us and not cause traumatic erosion."


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