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Wildfire scorches 19,000 acres in Santa Barbara

More than 19,000 acres (7,689 hectares) have been razed by a fire that sparked in California’s Santa Barbara last Friday afternoon, with several wineries forced to evacuate.

The blaze began just before 4pm on Friday 5 July near Zaca Lake and quickly spread through dry grass, brush and timber, said officials in the Californian region of Santa Barbara. Since then, the fire has torn through more than 19,000 acres and the skies are still glowing red from the flames.

Hundreds of firefighters and 10 helicopters were dispatched over the weekend to fight the fire, but as of late Sunday night only 8% of the fire was contained, with the inferno continuing to move south.

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

Several wineries are thought to be affected, including those in the mountains above Foxen Canyon Road, where there are more than a dozen vineyards. Several wineries north of Los Olivos were forced to close after the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department issued evacuation orders on Saturday night.

Adrian De La Cruz, who works at Petros Winery, said: “The smoke is getting really bad…Yesterday it was raining ash.”

Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch is also said to be in the path of the blaze.

The cause of the Zaca Lake fire is currently under investigation, but it is not the only fire to take place in California last weekend. According to the local fire department, it was one of 21 different fires to strike due to soaring temperatures in California.

Weather forecasters have issued an excessive-heat warning for inland California, with the mercury expected to rise to up to 46°C in valleys from Cuyama in Santa Barbara County down to the Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County.

“The National Weather Service has reported that a heat wave this intense, and lasting this long, has not been experienced in this region in 20 years,” Cal Fire said in a statement.

The California fires could cause smoke taint issues for winegrowers, who are gearing up to begin harvesting their crop between August and November. Producers across the globe have been using their spoiled grapes to make a range of alternative products, including brandies and even BBQ sauce, to help regain some of the production costs.

As db reported, one Oregon winery succeeded in transforming 800 cases of tainted Pinot Noir into BBQ sauce, which its owner said, was “our way of making the most out of a challenging situation.”

Meanwhile, Oregon wineries have banded together to sue Warren Beatty’s PacifiCorp energy company for US$100 million for allegedly refusing to shut off power during a windstorm in 2020, which contributed to the devastating wildfires that subsequently swept through the area.



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