Nature lends a hand in fight against three massive California wildfires

A plane drops retardant while battling a wildfire near Oroville.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

Nature provided a helping hand Tuesday to some of the thousands of firefighters tackling wildfires that have destroyed dozens of homes and forced scores of residents to flee.

Aided by a deep marine layer and high humidity, fire crews along the Central Coast increased containment for two massive blazes — the Alamo and Whittier fires. Farther north, slightly cooler temperatures assisted firefighters as they made headway on the Wall fire near Oroville.

The fast-moving wildfires broke out over the weekend amid triple-digit temperatures and scorched thousands of acres.

In Butte County, nearly 1,700 firefighters surrounded the Wall fire and slowed the growth of the blaze, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire was 55% contained.


The 5,800-acre fire, which started Friday afternoon just south of Lake Oroville, has destroyed 41 homes and damaged or destroyed an additional 57 other structures. Officials said the fire was “reduced significantly” but evacuation orders and warnings were still in place.

Meanwhile, crews to the south continued to make progress on wildfires in Santa Barbara County.

In the Los Padres National Forest, firefighters dug containment lines overnight along the southern slope of the Santa Ynez Mountains and worked to slow the 11,823-acre Whittier fire.


Crews were constructing a fire line on the northern side of the mountains and a northwest section of the blaze above Lake Cachuma, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

An onshore breeze brought favorable conditions and “pushed smoke away from the coast and back over the fire, resulting in increased shading to the brush and lower fire activity,” the forest service said.

The blaze, which was 48% contained, has gutted eight homes and 12 outbuildings south of Lake Cachuma.

The fire started Saturday along Highway 154 and prompted more than 3,500 people to flee.


A portion of the 28,926-acre Alamo fire is also burning near Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County. It was 60% contained on Tuesday evening.

Toni Davis, a spokeswoman for the Tulare County Fire Department, said the cooler temperatures have helped firefighters gain the upper hand. On Tuesday, an increase in moisture in the brush along with the light cloud cover further helped firefighters to increase the containment lines, Cal Fire officials said.

After the fire broke out Thursday off Highway 166 near Twitchell Reservoir in San Luis Obispo County, hundreds of residents fled the remote area.

More than 2,000 firefighters have worked amid steep and rugged terrain to build lines around the massive blaze, according to Cal Fire.


Flames continued to threaten 133 structures, fire officials said. Two structures, including one home, had been destroyed.

Elsewhere in the state, Mother Nature was not as cooperative. The Garza fire near Avenal in the Central Valley swelled to 16,500 acres on Tuesday and threatened at least five structures, according to Cal Fire. Nearly 900 firefighters have been assigned to the blaze, which broke out Sunday afternoon in a section of Kings County with tall grass and brush.

Further south in San Diego County, the Jennings fire broke out Tuesday afternoon and quickly spread to 400 acres off Interstate 8, shutting down the freeway for hours during the afternoon. Five homes were threatened and nearby schools and homes were evacuated.

By 5 p.m., forward progress on the blaze was stopped. Officials said three firefighters were hurt, and of those, two suffered moderate injuries and were taken to a hospital. The third was not hospitalized.


Another firefighter, 22-year old Frank Anaya, died on Tuesday in a San Diego-area hospital from injuries he received while using a chain saw in the fight against the Lakeside fire in San Diego County on July 5.

Anaya had been working on the La Cima Conservation Camp inmate crew.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.


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9:20 p.m.: This article was updated with details on the progress of the firefight on Tuesday, as well as details about the Garza and Jennings fires.

This article was originally published at 9:50 a.m.