California's Solimar Fire Has Shut Down Two Major Highways As Evacuations Begin
Right in the middle of one of the busiest travel times of the year, a massive fire is sweeping through Ventura County in California. What officials are calling the Solimar Fire has prompted partial shutdowns of two major highways and mandatory evacuations have been ordered for some residents, affecting not only disaster-weary residents, but holiday travelers as well.
The fire broke out in the evening on Christmas, and has quickly spread through 1,200 acres. It's speed and path, which an official from the Ventura County Fire Department called "dynamic," prompted the shutdown of parts of U.S. Highway 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway in both directions. Although officials hoped to have the highways back open by Saturday afternoon, the fire's unpredictable nature could mean that even after opening up, motorists should anticipate further closures.
Residents of Solimar Beach, which is about 70 miles southwest of Los Angeles, were issued mandatory evacuation notices on Saturday, as voluntary evacuations are in effect in nearby Faria Beach. According to Ventura County's emergency information site, 600 firefighters were on or headed to the scene on Saturday. Although the fire has caused no fatalities or structural damage thus far (though dozens of homes were in the, uh, line of fire), the site warns that "a strong northwest wind and currently poses a threat to oil, gas, power and rail infrastructure." The fire was less than 10 percent contained as of Saturday morning, and it's expected that it will take three days to completely put out the blaze.
The fire's impact was made worse by up to 50 mile per hour winds that caused its rapid spread overnight. Wind conditions on Saturday morning had decreased to 25 to 35 miles per hour, but Ventura County and parts of Los Angeles County are under wind advisories that could bring up to 40 mile per hour winds ripping through the area. But firefighters will hopefully catch a break by Sunday afternoon, when the advisory ends and winds are expected to die down to 15 miles per hour.
Although the Solimar Fire is dwarfed in comparison to some of California's blazes this year—including the Butte Fire, which ate up over 70,000 acres and caused Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in September—it's holiday season timing is no doubt wreaking a lot of havoc for both residents and travelers trying to enjoy the season.