Calmer winds help firefighters tackle California blaze
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) – A key Southern California highway that was closed for days due to a wildfire has been reopened, but authorities have warned the flames still pose a threat to remote properties in a coastal mountain range.
More than 1,300 firefighters aided by planes spilling water and fire retardants worked to fight the blaze that destroyed more than 67 square kilometers of chaparral and grass in the Santa Ynez Mountains to the west of Santa Barbara. Containment of the Alisal fire was increased to 11% Thursday evening.
Calmer weather allowed planes to stay in the air longer, said fire department spokeswoman Kristen Allison
“The winds are going to be a lot less strong than expected, so we’ll have helicopters running 24/7,” she said. “This is good news.”
Authorities said the fire was a threat to around 100 ranches and isolated homes. Among the protected properties is Rancho del Cielo, which was once owned by Ronald and Nancy Reagan and served as a retreat to the west during his presidency. The 688-acre (278-hectare) ranch sits atop the mountain range.
Strong winds when the fire started on Monday pushed the flames up the mountain range towards the Pacific Ocean. The blaze reached a beach after crossing the US 101 freeway and a railroad tracks, both of which were closed. Since then the winds have shifted but have been less intense.
The plane dropped a long line of fire retardants along a ridge-top road to keep the fire from moving north, and a wildfire scar slowed the fire’s movement towards ballast. An older burn scar lay to the west.
“The more this fire moves both east and west, it will move into some scars from previous wildfires, so these areas won’t have nearly the amount of fuel for the fire,” he said. said Andrew Madsen, an information officer. with the Los Padres National Forest.
The blaze remained about half a mile (0.8 kilometers) from the former Reagan ranch on Thursday, said Jessica Jensen, head of the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative organization that now operates the ranch.
The foundation expressed confidence in the measures to ensure the security of ranch property.
The tracks reopened Thursday afternoon and traffic on US 101 resumed running several hours later.
Elsewhere, gusty winds, low humidity and dry vegetation have triggered red flag warnings indicating a high fire danger in parts of southern California and parts of the interior of northern California.
Pacific Gas & Electric originally planned to cut power to thousands of customers in many counties on Thursday to prevent fires from being started by wind damage to power lines. But the utility said the wind event appeared to be weaker than what led to thousands of shutdowns on Monday, then quickly scaled back the latest forced shutdown plan. By noon, customers in parts of a single county were notified of a possible power outage.
The 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 American West linked to climate change is making wildfires more difficult to fight. He killed millions of trees in California alone. Scientists say climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather conditions more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.