A wildfire that swept through southern California’s coastal mountains threatened ranches and cottages and kept a major highway closed Wednesday as the fire-ravaged state faced a new round of dry winds that increase the risk of inferno.
The Alisal fire covered more than 15,000 acres (24 square miles) in the Santa Ynez Mountains west of Santa Barbara, and the number of firefighters nearly doubled to 1,300, with more on the way. Containment remained at 5%.
Although the picturesque region along the Pacific coast is sparsely populated, the fire threatened more than 100 homes, ranches and other buildings, firefighters said.
The fire broke out Monday on a ridge and spread out into the ocean, forcing the closure of Amtrak lines and US 101, the only large highway on that section of coastline. The road could remain closed until the weekend, said Andrew Madsen, a spokesman for the US Forest Service. Evacuation orders and warnings were established for ranches and various rural communities.
Fire crews were protecting Rancho del Cielo, which was once owned by Ronald and Nancy Reagan and was known as the Western White House during their presidency. The 688-acre (278-hectare) ranch where Reagan hosted world leaders sits atop the mountain range, above flames that feed on dense chaparral and grass.
According to reports from ranch staff, the fire was a half mile away late Wednesday morning, but that section of the fire was not as active as others, said Jessica Jensen, Young America’s vice president and chief of staff. . Foundation, which now operates the ranch.
“The ranch itself is still in a very defensible position,” Jensen said in an email to the Associated Press.
The National Weather Service said there would be a new round of notorious evening winds from southern Santa Barbara County Wednesday night, with other parts of California expected to experience increased fire danger as well.
Meanwhile, in Northern California, fire crews increased containment for a fire that destroyed 25 mobile homes, 16 mobile homes and a building at the Rancho Marina mobile home park in Sacramento County. No injuries were reported and the cause remains under investigation.
In southern San Joaquin County, a man suffered severe third-degree burns to most of his body and about five mobile homes were damaged in the flames that swept through the Islander mobile home park.
Red flag warnings were expected to go into effect in the interior of Northern California on Thursday due to gusts and low humidity levels. Forecasters also planned to issue a fire weather alert Friday in parts of Southern California due to the anticipated development of the Santa Ana winds.
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said it would likely have to cut power in specific parts of 13 Northern California counties on Thursday to prevent wildfires from being ignited by wind damage to power lines. The utility company just restored power to some 25,000 customers who had a power outage due to Monday’s windstorm.
The PG&E team was responsible for a fire in 2018 that wiped out most of the town of Paradise in Butte County and killed dozens. The company filed for bankruptcy and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter. Despite promises to improve its infrastructure and more closely monitor the fires, PG&E is again facing criminal charges for fires involving its equipment, including manslaughter charges after a fire near Redding last year killed four.
California wildfires have burned nearly 3,900 square miles (10,101 square kilometers) this year and destroyed more than 3,600 homes, businesses and other structures, according to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
A historic drought in the western United States linked to the climate crisis is making wildfires harder to fight. It has killed millions of trees in California alone. Scientists say the climate crisis has made the West much hotter and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Windy weather is a nightmare for firefighters in a state where heat waves and historic drought have left forests and brush dry. The fires that started in late summer are still burning after destroying hundreds of homes.