SANTA BARBARA, Calif .– A wildfire raging in the coastal mountains of southern California threatened ranches and rural homes and kept a major highway closed on Wednesday as the blaze-ravaged state faced a new series of dry winds that increase the risk of hell.
The Alisal fire covered more than 62 square kilometers (24 square miles) in the Santa Ynez Mountains west of Santa Barbara, and the number of firefighters nearly doubled to 1,300, and more are on the way. Containment remained at 5%.
While the scenic region along the Pacific Rim is sparsely populated, the blaze threatened more than 100 homes, ranches and other buildings, firefighters said.
Fire crews protected Rancho del Cielo, which once belonged to Ronald and Nancy Reagan and was known as the White House of the West during his presidency. The 278-hectare (688-acre) ranch where Reagan housed world leaders sits atop the mountain range, above the flames feeding on dense chaparral and grasses.
According to reports from ranch staff, the blaze was about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) late Wednesday morning, but that section of the blaze was not as active as the others, Jessica said. Jensen, vice president and chief of staff of Young America’s Foundation, which now operates the ranch.
“We are grateful that there has been no fire activity on the actual property of Reagan Ranch. The Ranch, itself, is still in a very defensible position, ”Jensen said in an email to The Associated Press.
The area had not burned since 1955, according to the conservative youth organization.
Fire trucks were on the ranch property and fire retardant will be sprayed around its structures, the foundation said in a statement. He noted that helicopters filled with water from one of the ranch’s two lakes.
“The Young America’s Foundation has emergency personnel on site, and our fire suppression systems are tested and ready to go,” he said.
Crews also protected an Exxon / Mobil gas treatment facility in a canyon surrounded by flames.
The blaze erupted near the Alisal Reservoir on Monday, and strong northerly winds swept the flames across the mountains, forcing the closure of US 101 in western Santa Barbara County. At one point, the fire jumped onto the four-lane highway and reached a beach. The closure forced motorists to detour onto smaller roads.
The highway could remain closed until the weekend, said Andrew Madsen, spokesman for the US Forest Service.
Firefighters working on steep and rugged terrain got help from more than a dozen water-dropping tankers and helicopters that returned to the sky amid calmer daytime winds, said Madsen.
“The plane is likely to be shut down later this afternoon when the high winds return,” he said.
The National Weather Service said there would be a new wave of notorious southerly winds from Santa Barbara County on Wednesday evening, and other areas of California are also expected to experience increased fire danger.
Red flag warnings were due to go into effect Thursday in the interior of northern California due to gusts and low humidity levels. Forecasters are also scheduled to issue a weather watch for the fires on Friday in parts of southern California due to the expected development of the Santa Ana winds.
Pacific Gas & Electric said it would likely have to cut power to targeted parts of 13 counties in northern California on Thursday to prevent wildfires from being ignited by wind damage to power lines. The utility has just restored power to about 25,000 customers who saw their electricity cut due to the windstorm on Monday.
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 more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.