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Santa Barbara County Wildfire Burns 17,000 Acres, Closing Key California Highway And Threatening Ranches

Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo by Mike Eliason
A DC-10 air tanker drops fire retardant near the Las Flores oil facility on the Gaviota Coast, to protect it from the Alisal wildfire.

Alisal Fire Closes Main Coastal Highway From Los Angeles To San Francisco For Three Days

An October, 2021 wildfire in Santa Barbara County charred nearly 17,000 acres of land, threatened about a hundred ranches and homes, and closed the main coastal highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco for three days.

The Alisal Fire started October 11th in the mountains west of Santa Barbara during an extreme wind event. The wind was so intense air tankers, and helicopters couldn't initially be used to battle the fire. It burned several miles down from the mountains to the coast, closing heavily used Highway 101 for three days. 12 homes were ultimately destroyed.

Firefighters near Refugio State Beach trying to protect structures from the Alisal wildfire

KCLU was on the air with coverage within a half hour of the start of the blaze, and provided numerous updates that first night. This is some of our live, on scene coverage which started before daybreak the next morning, in time to keep the thousands of commuters who use the highway informed.

Covering the fire posed a unique challenge for our small station. KCLU reaches all of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, the next two counties northwest of Los Angeles. The Alisal Fire was burning nearly 90 miles from our studios, so just getting there to be ready for live coverage at meant starting at 3 a.m., and being in place to provide coverage until 8 that night.

Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade
The remains of one of the homes destroyed by the Alisal Fire.

(While the main threat was over in the first week, the fire wasn't fully contained until mid-November. Two weeks after the fire, a a major storm swept through the area, and we were back with live coverage that day because of concerns that debris flows, or flash floods could close the key highway).