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Alisal Fire forces evacuations and road closures in Santa Barbara

The Alisal Fire in Southern California has intensified as strong winds cause the fire to spread.

USA TODAY, Storyful

Southern California’s Alisal Fire kept a major highway closed Wednesday and has burned 15,442 acres just 20 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, California, in two days.

Officials say strong winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour are fueling the fire, which is threatening the sparse homes and ranches in the area. The Alisal Fire started Monday, and its cause is under investigation, according to CalFire. Its containment was at 5% Wednesday. 

Highway 101 is closed between Highway 1 and Winchester Canyon Road/Cathedral Oaks in both directions as the fire approaches the highway, and Pacific Railroad and Amtrack services have been disrupted. It is the only major highway on that section of the coast.

The closure has caused drivers to take more precarious detours, and the highway could remain closed until the weekend while crews work to contain the fire, officials have said. Reopening is a top priority for incident commanders, officials said at a briefing Wednesday.

Officials said more than 100 homes and other structures were at risk. The latest evacuation orders and evacuation warnings were issued Tuesday.

Also threatened is Rancho del Cielo, a property formerly owned by Ronald and Nancy Reagan and once known as the Western White House. The blaze is about a half mile away from the property, but that section of the fire is not as active as others, Jessica Jensen, vice president and chief of staff of the Young America’s Foundation, which now operates the ranch, told The Associated Press.

“The Ranch, itself, is still in a very defensible position,” she said.

The Santa Barbara area was expected to see its notorious sundowner winds Wednesday evening, which occur off the Santa Ynez Mountains and usually include a rise in temperature and decrease in humidity. The winds have stoked wildfires in the region in the past.

California fires: Wildfire burns man in northern California; Alisal Fire forces evacuations

The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for Santa Barbara’s southern coast and mountains through Thursday, “with gusts up to 50 mph expected.”

Santa Barbara County Fire is asking residents not to use drones to fly over the area engulfed in flame, after receiving reports that drones were interfering with fire-fighting equipment. 

Airborne fire-fighting crews are engaging the fire from the air when winds let up, officials said. 

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that 2,043,220 acres across 10 incidents in California are currently burning.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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