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Alisal Fire grows to become Southern California's first major wildfire of season

By Jake Thomas
Alisal Fire grows to become Southern California's first major wildfire of season
View of the Alisal Fire from the Reagan Ranch. Photo Courtesy of Los Padres National Forest

Oct. 13 (UPI) -- The Alisal Fire burning just outside of Santa Barbara grew to 14,500 acres as strong winds stoked the blaze into Southern California's first major wildfire of the season.

After starting Monday afternoon, the fire grew from strong northern winds that closed portions of Highway 101 and halted Amtrak service, officials said. The fire also triggered evacuations in Arroyo Hondo Canyon, Refugio Canyon and the area between El Capitan Beach State Park and West Camino Cielo.

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The fire is just 5% contained as air tankers made drops to assist fire crews on Wednesday, the Los Padres National Forest said on Twitter.

The fire is now threatening the Rancho del Cielo, the 688-acre ranch known as the "Western White House," the former vacation home of President Ronald Reagan, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Flemming Bertelsen, the property's manager, told the paper that the ranch "dodged a bullet" after the fire had come within a quarter-mile.

"We were expecting to get slammed by the fire running up-canyon on us, but amazingly, this unusual north wind kept pushing it away from us," he said.

The region's unique sundowner winds, which blow strong gusts down the slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains toward the ocean, contributed to the fire's size.

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The fire is burning an area that has not seen a wildfire since 1955, CBS Los Angeles reported. More than 1,400 personnel with the U.S. Forest Service as well as other agencies are working to contain the blaze. Between 100 and 200 structures are threatened.

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