Alisal Fire in California Swells to More Than 13,000 Acres

2021-10-13 14:32:12

The fast-moving Alisal fire in Southern California has consumed 13,400 acres since it began on Monday, driven by gusting winds and threatening to destroy more than 100 structures, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

More than 750 firefighters have been assigned to the blaze, which was 5 percent contained early Wednesday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“The main constraint has been heavy winds that have limited safe access to suppress the fire and limited the use of aircraft to engage and support fire suppression,” fire officials said.

The cause of the fire, which began on Monday at 2:30 p.m., remains under investigation, according to Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency.

Alisal is one of the latest fires in California, where four 100,000-acre-plus mega-fires are still burning, including the Dixie fire, which began in July and has consumed more than 963,000 acres.

For the past two years, the state has found itself under siege from more large-scale fires burning with greater intensity than at any time on record.

Nine of the 20 largest fires in California have occurred since 2020, according to Cal Fire. The fires have forced state and federal officials to marshal armies of people and resources at all cost.

Wildfires occur throughout the West every year. But scientists say that the prolonged periods of abnormally high temperatures this summer that have contributed to the devastating fires are in keeping with the expected effects of climate change.

The world has already begun to experience increases in heat waves, droughts and other types of extreme weather over the past several decades as the atmosphere has warmed, and most climate models predict those kinds of events will increase as warming continues.

The 200,000-acre Gaviota Coast now being menaced by the Alisal fire is home to wildlife like mountain lions, badgers, bobcats and coyotes, said Guner Tautrim, a Gaviota Coast Conservancy board member.

Mr. Tautrim, 47, who lives in Gaviota, said on Tuesday that he could see helicopters flying over Refugio Canyon and dumping water on the fire.

He said he wasn’t concerned yet that the fire would cause significant damage to the Gaviota Coast. The fire could potentially benefit its ecosystem, Mr. Tautrim said.

“I think, assuming this doesn’t turn into a mega-fire, these chaparral species are going to bounce back and be healthier than they’ve been in decades,” he said.

So far, the direction of the wind, which is blowing out toward the ocean, has kept the fire from causing significant damage to the coast or from reaching nearby Goleta, a city in the southern part of Santa Barbara County, according to Ray Ford, a writer who has studied wildfires in Santa Barbara and helped build many of the trails along the Gaviota Coast.

“Everything is in the hands of the wind,” he said.

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