Raging wildfires across California force nearly 8,000 to evacuate: ‘It was terrifying’
Four different wildfires blazing through California on July 9. (Sign up for our free video newsletter here http://bit.ly/2n6VKPR)
With a heat wave continuing to bake California and the rest of the West, wildfires forced nearly 8,000 people to dash for safety Sunday as flames destroyed homes and threatened thousands of structures across the state.
Along the Central Coast, firefighters battled two major blazes on opposite ends of Santa Barbara County. Efforts Sunday focused on protecting mountain peaks that hold crucial communication and electrical infrastructure, including a high-voltage line that carries power to Santa Barbara and neighboring cities.
The Alamo fire, near Highway 166 in northern Santa Barbara County, was the largest active fire in California and was 15% contained after burning more than 37 square miles as of Sunday evening, according to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. At least 200 people were forced to evacuate a remote area east of Santa Maria, and about 1,000 firefighters from Los Angeles and across the state rushed to help control the flames, Cal Fire said.
The remains of a structure and boats scorched by the Whittier fire sit along State Route 154 in the Los Padres National Forest near Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The Whittier fire burns toward State Route 154 on Sunday in the Los Padres National Forest near Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds of people seek relief from the hot weather in the surf Sunday along the Santa Monica Pier.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds of people seek relief from the hot weather Sunday near the Santa Monica Pier.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A young girl tries to outrun the hot sand near Arlington West Santa Monica memorial on the north side of the Santa Monica Pier on Sunday.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Hazmat workers inspect a storm drain after a Saturday night’s explosion at a Department of Water and Power station in Northridge. Thousands of gallons of mineral oil, a coolant, were sent down drains as firefighters used water to douse a burning transformer.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A man wipes his face in front of his home on Logan Street in Los Angeles.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
A woman shields herself from the hot sun in 91 degree weather in Chinatown.(Christina House / For The Times)
Jacob Martinez, 8, of Anaheim, waits for the water to turn on after a brief break to cool off in the spray pool at Lemon Park in Fullerton,(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The Whittier Fire burns on the north side of the Santa Inez Mountains near Goleta.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
A hot spot burns ahead of the Alamo fire near Santa Maria on Saturday, July 8, 2017.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters look on as a helicopter drops water on the Alamo fire near Santa Maria on Saturday, July 8, 2017.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A firefighter maneuvers his vehicle down a private road as the Alamo fire burns near Santa Maria on Saturday, July 8, 2017.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Johnny Lewis, left, and his friend of over 50 years Earl Jackson, right, find refuge in the shade of an abadoned restaurant on Vermont and 54th in Los Angeles on Friday, during the region’s latest heat wave.(Christina House / For The Times)
People brave record 110-degree temperature Friday while walking to work in West Hills in the San Fernando Valley.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
A visitor to Angels Gate Park in San Pedro watches the setting sun against a fiery sky at the end of a hot day in Southern California.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Melissa Garcia, 6, cools off in the Reseda Park pool in the San Fernando Valley on Friday afternoon.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Maricruz Garista, 17, cools off during a break from carp fishing with relatives at the Los Angeles River.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
People cool off in the spray pool at Lemon Park in Fullerton.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The crowd waits for the water to return after a brief break in the spray pool at Fullerton’s Lemon Park.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Kids cool off in the spray pool at Fullerton’s Lemon Park.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A woman shields herself from the hot sun in 91 degree weather in Chinatown.(Christina House / For the Times)
In Chinatown, pedestrians use umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun in 91 degree weather on Friday.(Christina House / For the Times)
Jocelyn Caravantes, 3, left, and her brother Dean, 6, play in their Boyle Heights pool on a hot afternoon while their mother, Evelyn, watches from a chair in the shade.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Swimmers dive from a pier at Kings Beach in Lake Tahoe, where temperature are expected in the mid 80’s today.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Darin Yoon, 12, endures the late afternoon sun as he sits with his father, John, at Dodger Stadium to watch the Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks game.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Daniel Garcia rides around the Rose Bowl Loop Trail on a hot day in the Southland with temperatures expected to reach triple digits on Friday.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Anthony Garcia, 7, cools off at the splash pad at Rio de Los Angeles State Park in Los Angeles.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters extinguish a brush fire at Buena Vista Meadow in Elysian Park in Los Angeles.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Maribel Vasquez cleans reserved level seats in the hot afternoon sunshine hours before the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks game at Dodger Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A concertgoer prepares his spot for a free concert at Eastgate Park in Garden Grove.(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)
Josh Peralta plays in water splashing in a fountain in Cathedral City, where temperature reached 118 degrees.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Tina Robinson, left, and Eric Johns of Chicago beat the heat by walking under a cool mist and sipping colds drink in Palm Springs.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Moises Lopez takes a water break from landscaping a San Gabriel Mission school to stay hydrated.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Lincoln watches over pet owner Michelle Virney while she takes a nap to cool off in Vincent Lugo Park in San Gabriel.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Surfers set a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records for the largest paddle-out on International Surfing Day.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Surfers line up before attempting to set a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records for the largest paddle-out, forming the Surfing Circle of Honor on International Surfing Day.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Umbrellas are required equipment while walking around Vincent Lugo Park as temperatures rise during the latest heat wave.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
To beat the heat, Lily Lin leads an early morning Tai Chi class at Vincent Lugo Park in San Gabriel.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
From left, Aaron Stevens, 11, Alida Stevens, 4, and Brian Botts, 9, wave down customers as they sale refreshments on a hot summer day in Van Nuys. “We want to help people hydrate while helping ourselves,” Aaron Stevens said.(Christian K. Lee / Los Angeles Times)
Brian Botts, left, and Aaron Stevens, right, prepare a cup of Kool-Aid for Carlos Zepeda in Van Nuys.(Christian K. Lee / Los Angeles Times)
Tawny Auer joins her sons Shane, left, and Carter to cool off in a pool at the aquatic center in Palm Desert, where temperature reached 115 degrees.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Adrian Rosales cools off at the spray pool at Lemon Park in Fullerton.(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times )
Children splash in water from the spray pool at Lemon Park in Fullerton.(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times )
Boaters relax on Big Bear Lake as a giant plume from the Holcomb fire burns nearby in rugged terrain in the San Bernardino National Forest.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Luigi, a thirsty pit bull, cools down at Genesee Avenue Park in Los Angeles.(Christian K. Lee / Los Angeles Times)
About 35 miles to the south in Santa Barbara County, more than 3,500 people have fled the Whittier fire near Lake Cachuma, which was burning just north of Goleta. The blaze scorched just over 12 square miles and burned 20 structures on both sides of Highway 154, according to officials with Los Padres National Forest.
That fire, which started about 2 p.m. Saturday, initially trapped some 80 campers at the Circle V Ranch Camp. But U.S. Forest Service firefighters reached the group later that day, said Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
On Sunday, firefighters were aided by slightly lower temperatures — nearby Santa Ynez saw a high of 91, compared to 106 on Saturday — and favorable winds blowing in from the Pacific that halted the fire’s spread downhill toward Goleta. The blaze was moving east and west along the Santa Ynez Mountains into areas that were badly burned by two wildfires in the last decade, limiting the available fuel.
“It will act as a good buffer,” said Jim Harris, deputy fire chief for Los Padres National Forest.
Harris said the firefighting effort in Santa Barbara County is in need of additional ”hotshot” fire crews with the kind of rugged engines that can navigate the steep dirt terrain where the fire is burning on the south-facing mountain slopes.
It was my worst-case scenario.... I wasn’t home, I wasn’t able to get there and I had to evacuate.
— Sarah Gustafson, who evacuated with her six cats
A third blaze in the Central Coast, the Stone fire, ignited Sunday just before 2 p.m. about 30 miles east of Morro Bay, according to Cal Fire’s unit in San Luis Obispo County. The fire quickly grew to 340 acres and threatened numerous structures, and was just 10% contained Sunday evening, officials said.
Meanwhile, thousands of evacuees holed up in cars and shelters over the weekend, awaiting word if they were allowed to return home.
Sarah Gustafson, who moved from Washington to California seven months ago, lives in the shadow of the Santa Ynez Mountains down a winding road between Lake Cachuma and San Marcos Pass, just off Highway 154.
She was getting her tires changed on the Santa Barbara side of the mountains Saturday when she saw a pillar of smoke rise on the other side of the range. She panicked: Her six beloved cats were trapped at home.
“It was my worst-case scenario,” said Gustafson, who works at a veterinary hospital. “I wasn’t home, I wasn’t able to get there and I had to evacuate.”
Once her tires were secure, she navigated around road closures and made her way over the mountain range as the fire exploded from 300 to more than 3,000 acres in a swath of forest that fire officials said had not burned since 1955.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “The sky was orange and black. You could see flames up on the ridge. When I got home it was smokey with ash.”
She managed to cram her six cats — Severus, Malfoy, Mama, Smee, Nibbles and her kitten, Gidget — into containers, then into her Toyota sedan. She spent the night in the parking lot of a shelter set up at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara with her cats, a portable DVD player and Season 6 of “The Simpsons” to keep her company.
Fernando Salazar, a biologist from Colombia, and his daughter Veronica Salazar, who recently graduated from MIT, didn’t know what to make of the smoke plume at first. The pair darted up the hill from Santa Barbara to a campground in Los Padres National Forest to retrieve their camping gear.
“It was an inferno,” Salazar said. “The sky was beautiful, the sun was red.”
The pair had seen Yellowstone, Yosemite and points in between during their road trip. “And we end it with a fire,” he said.
Elsewhere across California, more than 4,000 people were under a mandatory evacuation order as the Wall fire tore through nearly eight square miles and destroyed 10 structures in a remote part of Butte County, roughly 60 miles north of Sacramento.
The blaze was threatening an additional 5,400 structures, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency and devote additional resources to the firefighting effort there.
Four people have been injured by the Wall fire, which was 17% contained late Sunday, Cal Fire said. The fire was “actively” burning, pushing toward the northwest and southwest and leaving another 7,400 people under evacuation warnings, the agency said.
In some places, firefighters contended with harsh heat. The Winters fire in Yolo County, which registered a high temperature of 104 degrees on Sunday, burned 2,269 acres and was 85% contained, officials said. No more evacuation orders were in place, and the cause of the blaze that ignited Thursday afternoon remained under investigation.
Panzar reported from Goleta and Hamilton from Los Angeles.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.