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Flames along Southern California coast close highways, spur evacuations

Posted at 12:41 PM, Dec 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-26 12:42:06-05

Parts of two of Southern California’s most well-known highways shut down early Saturday due to a wildfire that has burned hundreds of acres and spurred mandatory evacuations, authorities said.

Traffic on U.S. Highway 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway — which run alongside each other on the West Coast — was closed off in both directions in Ventura County due to what has been labeled the Solimar Fire.

Winds drove flames through drought-stricken vegetation and within striking distance of area beaches, in addition to “bumping against the roadway,” Ventura County Fire Capt. Steve Kaufmann said in a video posted to his department’s Facebook page.

“We’re seeing fire embers all over the place,” Kaufmann said.

The fast-moving blaze burned into and through Christmas night and into Saturday, with roughly 1,000 acres torched as of 5:20 a.m. (8:20 a.m. ET), according to Ventura fire spokesman Mike Lindberry.

By that time, some 500 firefighters were at the scene or en route.

Mother Nature wasn’t doing much to help, with clear or mostly sunny skies forecast for the next week, according to the National Weather Service. But wind is an even bigger problem, including sustained winds of 15-20 mph on Saturday and gusts as strong as 30 mph.

Similar conditions should prevail into Sunday, at which point a wind advisory should still be in effect.

While it’s far from the biggest wildfire California has faced in recent memory, the Solimar Fire is affecting not only travelers but residents in this community about 70 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.

People in the Solimar Beach area have been ordered to leave their homes, according to the county fire department, while a voluntary evacuation notice has gone out for people in Faria Beach, a short distance up the coast.

Crews on 10 to 15 fire engines fought the flames Saturday morning, trying to protect structures and contain “fire that’s up and down the hill,” according to Kaufmann.

He urged that anyone who leaves for higher ground to close all their windows and doors first.

“Make sure everything is buttoned up tight,” Kaufmann said. “If you leave any window or door or garage door open, that’s just an entrance for one of these embers … to get into your house. We don’t want that to happen.”