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    16,000-acre Lake Fire in Santa Barbara County prompts evacuations and threatens Neverland Ranch
    • July 8, 2024

    A wildfire that erupted in the mountains of Santa Barbara County in Southern California has burned more than 16,000 acres, prompting an evacuation order and threatening ranches, including Michael Jackson’s former Neverland Ranch, authorities said.

    The fire, called the Lake fire, broke out shortly before 4 p.m. Friday near Zaca Lake, just northeast of the city of Los Olivos, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

    The cause of the fire, which was zero percent contained as of Sunday, remained under investigation.

    The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office issued an evacuation order for an area near the Los Padres National Forest that includes the property once known as Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, a 2,700-acre property in Los Olivos, California.

    About 100 residents were affected by the evacuation order, said Kenichi Haskett, a public information officer for Cal Fire. No structural damage, injuries or fatalities have been reported so far.

    Winds were blowing the blaze southeast. The former Neverland Ranch and other ranches were in immediate danger Sunday, Haskett said.

    Jackson bought the ranch for about $17 million in 1988 and transformed it into a private entertainment complex, complete with a zoo, a train and an amusement park that included a Ferris wheel and a 50-seat theater.

    Related: This map shows where the Lake Fire is burning

    He named it Neverland Ranch, after the mythical island home of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.

    Before his death in 2009, he faced several allegations that he molested young boys, with some of his accusers alleging that they were abused at Neverland. After a 2005 trial that acquitted him, Jackson never returned to live at his ranch.

    The amusement park rides were later removed and the property was rebranded the Sycamore Valley Ranch. It was sold in 2020 for $22 million to Ronald Burkle, a billionaire investor.

    Scott Safechuck, a public information officer with Santa Barbara County Fire Department, said on social media that temperatures in the area reached into the 90s over the weekend and that relative humidity levels were low.

    More than 750 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and Santa Barbara County Fire Department have been assigned to the fire, the U.S. Forest Service said. Aerial support included 10 air tankers and three helicopters, Safechuck said.

    Evacuation warnings were in place north of Zaca Lake Road, east of Foxen Canyon Road and South of the Sisquoc River, according to Inciweb, the national incident information system for wildfires and all-hazard incidents. On Sunday evening, the sheriff’s office issued additional evacuation warnings to include areas north of Calzada Avenue, east of East Oak Trail Road, west of Happy Canyon, and south of the Sisquoc River.

    The fire was first reported at 3:45 p.m., according to the U.S. Forest Service. A combustible mix of low relative humidity levels, gusty winds and scorching temperatures helped the fire swell to 4,000 acres by 11 p.m., the agency said. By Sunday, the blaze had ripped through at least 16,452 acres.

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