Lake fire threatens Neverland Ranch

A wildfire that broke out in the mountains of Southern California’s Santa Barbara County has burned more than 50,000 acres, prompting evacuations and threatening ranches including Michael Jackson’s former Neverland Ranch, authorities said.

The blaze, dubbed the Lake Fire, broke out shortly before 4 p.m. Friday near Zaca Lake, just northeast of Los Olivos, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. With more than 20,300 acres burned, the Lake Fire was California’s largest fire this year, Cal Fire said.

The cause of the fire, which was 8 percent contained as of Monday morning, remains under investigation. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has issued an evacuation order for an area near the Los Padres National Forest, including the property once known as Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, a 6,700-acre estate in Los Olivos, about 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The winds were blowing the fire southeast. Neverland Ranch and other ranches were in immediate danger Sunday, said Kenichi Haskett, a Cal Fire spokesperson.

On Monday, he said firefighters worked through the night in the southeastern part of the fire to prevent it from spreading to livestock farms in the Los Olivos area, home to about 500 people.

About 100 residents were affected by the evacuation order, he said. No structural damage, injuries or deaths have been reported from the fire so far.

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

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

Scott Safechuck, public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, reported on social media that temperatures in the area rose above 90 degrees Fahrenheit over the weekend and relative humidity was low.

More than 750 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and Santa Barbara County Fire Department were assigned to the fire, the U.S. Forest Service said. Air support included 10 firefighting aircraft and three helicopters, Safechuck said.

Evacuation warnings were in effect 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-hazards incidents. On Sunday night, the sheriff’s office issued additional evacuation warnings for 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, gusty winds and scorching temperatures helped the blaze swell to 4,000 acres by 11 p.m., the agency said.

Christine Hauser And Jesus Jimenez contributed to the reporting.

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