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3rd winter wildfire forces California road closures

A wildfire started Wednesday near the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, forcing road closures and evacuations.

The wind-driven Airport fire began early Wednesday afternoon in the Owens Valley, near the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). The fire spread quickly, doubling in size from 50 to 100 acres within 45 minutes.

National Weather Service observations showed peak gusts of 50 mph in Bishop on Wednesday and fire officials said the spreading smoke created visibility concerns for their crews.

By late Thursday morning, the Airport fire had expanded to 3,900 acres in size and remained 0% contained, based on a tweet from Cal Fire’s San Bernardino Unit. About 1,500 structures are in the path of the fire, but no injuries or fatalities have been reported as a result of the blaze. Cal Fire is investigating the cause of the fire.

The Owens Valley Radio Observatory and the White Mountain Research Center were evacuated. The evacuation area was later expanded to include Big Pine, a small town of about 1,500 people 15 miles south of Bishop.

In Bishop, California State Route 168 was still closed east of U.S. 395 as of late Thursday morning, as was Warm Springs Road east of U.S. 395. Other local roads in the area that were closed Wednesday by the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office may still be shut down. These closures may impact some local and regional deliveries in the fire area.

The Airport fire is the largest of three California wildfires that have popped up so far in 2022, despite a large amount of drought relief this season. However, most of eastern California is still under a “severe” drought and is prone to fires.

A pair of wildfires last week near Los Angeles and Laguna Beach in Southern California burned several homes, led to evacuations and closed a portion of the iconic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

Another fire less than a month ago also closed a section of the PCH and prompted evacuations close to the state’s Big Sur region.

By this time last year, Cal Fire had recorded 10 wildfires, but none burned more than 700 acres.

Major lane of concern

• California State Route 168 from Death Valley Road near Big Pine to the Inyo-Mono County line (35 miles).

Credit FreightWaves by Nick Austin

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