California firefighters are battling flames and strong winds as they tackle the Alisal Fire, which has shut down a section of the iconic Highway 101 and Amtrak lines in Santa Barbara County.
The 15,400-acre fire, burning 20 miles northwest of Santa Barbara in Refugio Canyon, was 5% contained as of Wednesday evening.
The fire grew quickly after sparking on Monday, officials said. The cause is unknown.
At least 1,300 personnel are responding to the blaze, with more expected to join the effort.
“Hoping for favorable winds for fixed-wing aircraft to engage,” Santa Barbara County Fire tweeted Wenesday.
California has had a devastating wildfire season that has been exacerbated by the climate crisis, which has been creating ideal weather conditions for fires to spark and expand.
Given that nearly 90% of the state is experiencing conditions as harsh as extreme drought – the second most severe category according to the US Drought Monitor – putting out the fires is that much harder.
The Alisal Fire threat led the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department to issue evacuation orders for areas between El Capitan Beach State Park and West Camino Cielo as well as Arroyo Hondo Canyon and Refugio Canyon. Evacuation warnings were issued for other nearby areas.
Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner announced altered train service in the area.
California is currently fighting 10 large active fires, the National Interagency Fire Center said. One of those fires, the KNP Complex Fire, has already destroyed many of the state’s iconic sequoia trees. That fire was 40% contained Wednesday after charring nearly 88,000 acres since September 10, according to InciWeb.
Meanwhile, 20 California counties have been warned by utility company PG&E that they could see a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) Thursday in response to weather conditions that could fuel yet another wildfire.
The counties under the alert are: Butte, Colusa, Contra Costa, Glenn, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Napa, Plumas, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba.
Thousands under air quality watch
The Santa Barbara Public Health Department and air pollution control officials issued an Air Quality Watch on Tuesday due to smoke from the Alisal Fire.
“Smoke and ash from the Alisal Fire could affect local air quality. Strong winds, locally and across the state, are also stirring up dust and ash into the air,” officials said in a news release, urging residents to be cautious.
“This is a dynamic situation, and local air quality conditions can change quickly.”
Smoke from the fire can be seen throughout the southern part of the county, including the Santa Ynez Valley and along the Gaviota coastline, fire officials said on InciWeb.
In particular, people with heart or lung conditions, older adults, pregnant people and children should not spend too much time outside and limit outdoor exercise to avoid inhaling the smoke and particles in the air, health officials said.