The main highway in the coastal mountains of Southern California remained closed Wednesday and evacuation orders were in effect as a growing wildfire chewed through dry vegetation in the region.
More than 760 firefighters in Santa Barbara County fought the Alisal fire, which covered 21 square miles (54 square kilometers) along the coast and was only 5% contained, county fire officials 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 coast. Evacuation orders and warnings were established for ranches and various rural communities.
The fire threatened more than 100 homes, ranches and other buildings, fire officials said, and was burning near Rancho del Cielo, once owned by Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The flames were also near an ExxonMobile oil refinery, which has been closed since a 2015 oil spill.
Firefighters warned Wednesday of “significant growth potential” due to strong north-northwest winds. The area is under a wind warning through Thursday morning with the possibility of gusts of up to 50 mph that could knock down tree limbs, cause power outages and make driving, National Metereological Service reported.
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.
This week’s fires were fueled by powerful gusts of wind that swept through the state. Utility company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) cut power to about 24,000 customers in targeted areas of 23 counties on Monday to prevent fires from starting if the blasts damaged electrical equipment.
The windy weather then calmed down a bit and power was restored on Tuesday, but red flag warnings for extreme fire danger will return Thursday and PG&E warned it may need to cut power to some 29,000 customers in 19 counties Thursday. due to the renewed threat. .
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.
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 climate change 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.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism