19,000-acre wildfire in Santa Barbara County prompts evacuations near vineyards, Neverland Ranch

Members of the Arrowhead Hot Shot crew work to build a fire line as they continue to fight the Lake Fire, in Santa Barbara County, California on July 7, 2024. The fire, which began late July 5 near Zaca Lake, has spread to over 13,000 acres (5,260 hectares) over the weekend in Santa Barbara County, prompting evacuation warnings, according to county officials. (Photo by Daniel Dreifuss / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL DREIFUSS/AFP via Getty Images)
Firefighting crews work to build a fire line as they continue to battle the Lake fire in Santa Barbara County on Sunday. (Daniel Dreifuss / AFP / Getty Images)

A wildfire in the mountains above Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley has exploded to nearly 19,000 acres, prompting evacuations near vineyards and Neverland Ranch.

The Lake fire was sparked near Zaca Lake on Friday afternoon just before 4 p.m. and quickly spread through dry grass, brush and timber, officials said.

All weekend, the blaze grew, prompting evacuations Saturday night along Figueroa Mountain Road near Neverland Ranch, once owned by pop star Michael Jackson.

Several air tankers and 10 helicopters along with hundreds of firefighters were dispatched to the area, but the flames blackened an additional 3,000 acres Sunday. The fire was 8% contained as of late Sunday, and officials forecast the fire would continue moving south and southeast, with increased heat, wind and bone-dry grass fueling its spread.

“Our goal is to keep [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 posted by the U.S. Forest Service showed the fire near the edge of Neverland Ranch along Figueroa Mountain Road, but it was unclear if any structures were damaged or if the flames had reached the property.

The fire was burning in the mountains above Foxen Canyon Road, where there are more than a dozen vineyards. Several wineries north of Los Olivos were closed Sunday after fire officials cut off access to the road.

But there was no need to evacuate, Ashley Parker, co-owner of Fess Parker Winery, said early Sunday.

Parker felt the threat level was low, with the fire moving to the north. She said youngsters at the establishment were entertained by the fire helicopters sucking water from the vineyard reservoir.

“My nieces and their husbands live on the ranch," Parker said. “All the kids were getting a real thrill out of it. Those helicopter pilots are really amazing. So lucky to have great fire crews.”

The fire was fueled by low humidity and hot inland temperatures. When the blaze started, a red flag warning was in place because of gusty winds. The wind calmed Sunday afternoon, but temperatures remained high.

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

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

Vista fire ignites as crews get handle on Basin, French fires

Amid scorching temperatures, crews continued to battle several wildfires in inland areas across California. The largest is the Basin fire in Fresno County, which started June 26. The fire, which has burned 14,027 acres, was 60% contained Sunday.

Crews also gained the upper hand on the French fire, which began on the Fourth of July and briefly threatened the town of Mariposa outside Yosemite National Park. The 908-acre fire, which temporarily triggered mandatory evacuations and closed State Route 140 leading into the park, stands at 60% containment.

Farther south, the Vista fire ignited just before 10 a.m. Sunday in the Lytle Creek area of the San Bernardino National Forest and spread to about 94 acres by the early evening, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

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

The fire was 0% contained as of Sunday evening.

Inland areas of California battered by heat

The weather service has issued an excessive-heat warning until 9 p.m. Wednesday for inland valleys from Cuyama in Santa Barbara County down to the Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County. Forecasters say the highs along this stretch of inland California are expected to range from 106 to 116 degrees.

The relentless heat shattered records in some parts of the state Saturday. Palmdale tied its all-time record 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 call off excessive-heat advisories and warnings in many of the coastal areas.

Read more: Motorcycle tour of Death Valley turns fatal as thermometer cracks 128 degrees

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

“I really do believe the firefighters knocked it back and that area is going to be up to speed in 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 were being seated indoors because of the air quality.

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

He said one fire patrol officer stopped by, but he did not have time to talk to him.

“We were busy,” he said.

Time staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.