Alisal Fire prompts evacuations, power shutoffs and wind advisories
Evacuation orders due to the Alisal Fire are still in effect as the 14,500-acre blaze continues to burn in Santa Barbara County. And officials are concerned that strong winds, which prompted a wind advisory for the area Wednesday, may stoke the fire’s flames.
“This fire is a reminder that as summer winds down, our fire season ramps up,” Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joan Hartmann said at a community briefing.
More than 1,300 personnel are responding to the wildfire, which ignited on Monday and was 5% contained as of Wednesday morning, local fire officials tweeted. The blaze closed down a portion of Highway 101 — a major route in Santa Barbara — and officials said Wednesday that reopening the highway is a priority for incident commanders, along with protecting oil production facilities along the coast.
Air pollution in the area was deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups by air quality technology company IQAir on Wednesday evening. The area also had a concentration of the pollutant PM2.5 nearly four times higher than what the World Health Organization recommends for air quality.
The company recommended sensitive groups in affected areas wear a face mask while outdoors, use an air purifier, close windows and reduce outdoor exercise.
The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for the southern coast and the mountains of Santa Barbara County on Wednesday until Thursday. Gusty winds of up to 50 miles per hour are forecast, which may result in power outages and unsecured objects to blow around.
Santa Barbara County fire chief Mark Hartwig said Wednesday that Alisal is a “wind-driven” fire, noting that the weather has helped to spread its flames quickly. Fully containing the wildfire could take up to weeks, he said.
To prevent additional wildfires from igniting, energy provider Pacific Gas and Electric issued public safety power shutoffs in 12 counties throughout California, affecting approximately 16,000 customers, on Wednesday.
“As a result of this wind event, combined with extreme to exceptional drought conditions and extremely dry vegetation, PG&E began sending one-day advance notifications Wednesday morning to customers in areas where PG&E may need to proactively turn off power for safety to reduce the risk of wildfire from energized power lines,” the company warned Tuesday.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, California is currently tackling 10 active fires, including Alisal. This year’s wildfire season produced the state’s second largest fire in history: the Dixie Fire, which burned 963,309 acres.