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Wednesday October 27th, 2021 5:57PM

Southern California fire shuts highway, forces evacuations

By The Associated Press
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SOLVANG, Calif. (AP) — Evacuation orders were expanded Tuesday for a growing wildfire driven by intense winds that has shut down a key Southern California highway for more than a day.

At least 200 firefighters battled the Alisal Fire, which had scorched 21 square miles (54 square kilometers) along coastal Santa Barbara County and was only 5% contained, county fire officials said.

The fire erupted Monday on a ridge and blasted toward the ocean, forcing the closure of U.S. 101, the only major highway on that section of the coast. Evacuation orders and warnings were in place for several areas of the lightly populated region.

“The fire is burning in dense chaparral and is being pushed by strong winds and growing at a rapid rate of speed,” a fire update said Tuesday. Gusts reached 70 mph (113 kph) in some areas, officials said.

In Northern California, fire crews increased the containment of a blaze that destroyed 25 mobile homes, 16 RVs and a park building at the Rancho Marina RV Park in Sacramento County. At least 20 structures were still threatened, according to the River Delta Fire District.

No injuries were reported, and the cause remained under investigation.

To the south in San Joaquin County, a man suffered burns and about five mobile homes were damaged by flames that raced through the Islander Mobile Home Park, Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Josh Capper told Fox40-TV.

The injured man suffered severe third-degree burns over most of his body, Capper said.

Powerful gusts that swept through the state Monday also toppled trees and whipped up blinding dust clouds. Red flag warnings for critical fire danger and wind expired Tuesday for much of the interior of Northern California, but a lesser wind advisory continued Tuesday night in Santa Barbara County.

In anticipation of the wind event, the Pacific Gas & Electric utility shut off power Monday to about 24,000 customers in targeted areas of 23 counties to prevent fires from being started if gusts damaged electrical equipment.

Virtually all customers had their electricity restored Tuesday. But PG&E said it may need to cut power to about 29,000 customers across 19 counties on Thursday because of potential wildfire threat.

PG&E equipment was blamed for a 2018 fire that wiped out most of the town of Paradise in Butte County. The company filed for bankruptcy and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter. PG&E also faces criminal charges for fires caused by its fraying equipment, including involuntary manslaughter counts in connection to a blaze near the city of Redding last year that killed four.

Windy weather is a nightmare for firefighters in a state where heat waves and historic drought tied to climate change have left forests and brush tinder-dry. Fires that began in late summer are still burning after destroying hundreds of homes.

In the Sierra Nevada, the KNP Complex fire that may have burned hundreds of giant sequoias was only 40% contained.

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