California wildfire balloons to 13,400 acres, jumps major highway

·2 min read

The Alisal Fire continued to wreak havoc on California's Central Coast, ballooning to more than 13,000 acres by Tuesday night with 5 percent containment, according to Santa Barbara County fire officials.

Authorities had already shut down a major thoroughfare and ordered mandatory evacuations as powerful winds swept across the state and fueled the rapidly growing fire that erupted Monday afternoon in the Los Padres National Forest.

U.S. Highway 101, which stretches from California through Washington state, remained closed Tuesday near Santa Barbara. High winds fueled the fire overnight, helping it to jump all four lanes of the highway and spread to Tajiguas Beach.

Approximately 100 structures were threatened, federal officials said, which includes ranches and homes. Around 600 firefighting personnel were working to contain the blaze Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service said.

"The fire is burning in dense chaparral and is being pushed by strong winds and growing at a rapid rate of speed," said a Los Padres National Forest incident report. Smoke was visible throughout southern Santa Barbara County.

Dramatic video captured by NBC affiliate KSBY of San Luis Obispo showed towering flames burning toward U.S. Highway 101. Parks, beaches and campgrounds were evacuated as the fire quickly spread.

As of Tuesday morning, evacuation orders were in effect for the Refugio Canyon and were expanded to include El Capitan State Beach and the El Capitan campground. More evacuation warnings were issued Tuesday afternoon, and officials warned people to be prepared to leave.

The fire ignited Monday as a large swath of the state was under a red flag warning, indicating increased fire risk. A cause of the fire was unknown Tuesday afternoon.

Power companies across the state shut off electricity in an effort to prevent new blazes from starting.

Pacific Gas & Electric said that all its customers should get power restored by Tuesday night, but it said more winds that could arrive early Thursday could cause pre-emptive shutoffs to around 29,000 customers. The utility company said that could affect "small, targeted portions of 19 counties" and four tribes.

Nearly 2.5 million acres have burned in California in 2021, making it one of the most explosive years on record, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Experts have attributed the state’s increasingly volatile wildfire seasons to climate change and decades of fire suppression policies that allowed the state’s wildlands to become dangerously overgrown.

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