The Paint Fire — more commonly referred to as the Painted Cave Fire — began on June 27, 1990, and was the most intense and destructive fire to burn the Santa Barbara area in decades. The month of June had been unusually hot and dry. The temperature on the day of the fire reached 109 degrees, and gusting winds maxed out at 75 mph.
Stemming from a property dispute, the fire was started intentionally around 6 p.m. near Highway 154 and Painted Cave Road. Pushed by offshore winds coming down San Marcos Pass, the wildfire quickly destroyed everything in its path as residents escaped with little time to gather belongings. As the firestorm reached the bottom of Highway 154, firefighters and civilians watched in awe as it jumped all six lanes of Highway 101 and burned toward Hope Ranch.
Fortunately that night, the wind changed direction, coming off the ocean to push the fire back into its own burn scar, where there was no fuel remaining. Firefighters contained the blaze a few days later. The fire burned 5,000 acres and claimed 500 homes and buildings and one life.