Wildfires prompt evacuations at Neverland Ranch and Mt. Baldy Resort

A wildfire in the mountains above the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County has burned nearly 19,000 acres, forcing evacuations near vineyards and Neverland Ranch.

The fire started around 4 p.m. Friday afternoon near Zaca Lake and quickly spread through dry grass, brush and trees, officials said.

The fire raged all weekend, forcing evacuations Saturday night along Figueroa Mountain Road, near Neverland Ranch, once owned by pop star Michael Jackson.

Several firefighting planes and 10 helicopters, along with hundreds of firefighters, were sent to the area, but the flames burned another 3,000 acres by Sunday. The fire was 8% contained by Sunday evening, and officials predicted it would continue to move south and southeast, with increasing heat, wind and bone-dry grass fueling its spread.

“Our goal is to [the fire] away from … structures,” said Kenichi Haskett, the public information officer assigned to the firefighting operation. “It’s going to continue to grow.”

Maps from the U.S. Forest Service showed the fire on the edge of Neverland Ranch along Figueroa Mountain Road, but it was unclear if there was damage to buildings or whether flames had reached the property.

The fire raged in the mountains above Foxen Canyon Road, home to more than a dozen wineries. Several wineries north of Los Olivos were closed Sunday after firefighters blocked off access to the road.

But there was no reason to evacuate, said Ashley Parker, co-owner of Fess Parker Winery, on Sunday morning.

A helicopter fills its tank with water in the reservoir at Fess Parker Winery at Rodney’s Vineyard. (Josh White)

Parker considered the threat level low as the fire moved north. She said young people at the establishment were entertained by the fire helicopters sucking water from the vineyard’s reservoir.

“My nieces and their husbands live on the ranch,” Parker said. “All the kids loved it. Those helicopter pilots are really great. We’re so lucky to have great firefighters.”

The fire was fueled by low humidity and high temperatures inland. When the fire started, there was a red flag warning due to the gusts. The wind died down Sunday afternoon, but temperatures remained high.

“With less wind, they can send planes in there to drop retardant,” said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard. “But it’s life-threatening heat for these firefighters.”

He said humidity was still in the single digits in some areas of the fire, especially at the highest elevations. The cause of the fire is unknown.

Vista fire flares up as firefighters get Basin and French fires under control

Amid scorching temperatures, crews continued to battle several wildfires in California’s interior. The largest is the Basin Fire in Fresno County, which started on June 26. The blaze, which has burned 14,027 acres, was 60% contained by Sunday.

Crews also gained the upper hand on the French Fire, which started on July 4 and briefly threatened the town of Mariposa outside Yosemite National Park. The 908-acre fire, which temporarily prompted mandatory evacuations and closed State Route 140 leading into the park, is 60% contained.

Further south, the Vista Fire started just before 10 a.m. Sunday morning in the Lytle Creek area of ​​the San Bernardino National Forest. By early evening, the fire had spread to about 95 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

An evacuation order was issued for the Mt. Baldy ski area and parts of the Pacific Crest Trail. Other nearby trails were closed as more than 250 firefighters battled the blaze.

By Sunday evening the fire was 0% under control.

California’s interior battered by heat

The weather service has issued an extreme heat warning through 9 p.m. Wednesday for inland valleys from Cuyama in Santa Barbara County to the Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County. Temperatures in this part of inland California are expected to range from 106 to 116 degrees, meteorologists said.

The relentless heat broke records in some parts of the state on Saturday, with Palmdale tying its record high of 115 degrees. Death Valley set a new record for July 6 with a high of 128 degrees.

On Saturday, a cooling trend prompted the weather service to lift extreme heat warnings in many coastal areas.

In Los Olivos, vineyard managers said Sunday afternoon they were optimistic the fire would be contained. Parker said she expected her winery to reopen Monday.

“I truly believe the fire department has pushed it back and the area will be back up to speed within a day,” she said. “The last thing I want to do is encourage people not to come. The town of Los Olivos is in good shape. Businesses are open. People are having a good time.”

Adrian De La Cruz, who works at Petros Winery closer to town, said customers had to sit indoors because of the air quality.

“The smoke is going to be really bad today,” he said. “Yesterday it was raining ash.”

He said a firefighter came by, but he didn’t have time to talk to him.

“We were busy,” he said.

Time staffer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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