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Firefighters get a grip on the Alisal Fire after extreme winds die down

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now. Firefighters have mostly contained California's Alisal Fire. It's been burning along a scenic coastline north of Santa Barbara, driven by extreme winds. Over the weekend, firefighters got a reprieve, as we hear from Matt Guilhem of our member station KCRW.

MATT GUILHEM, BYLINE: When it first sparked, howling winds pushed the Alisal Fire from a hilltop ridge down to the 101 freeway, which hugs the coast. For several days, a segment of California's primary shoreline highway was shut down.

DANIEL BERTUCELLI: There were times when I was driving on it while the freeway was closed, and the fire was literally on the edge of the freeway with smoke blowing across the freeway. Visibility was almost zero.

GUILHEM: That's Santa Barbara County Fire Department Captain Daniel Bertucelli.

BERTUCELLI: We were very pleased when that freeway got reopened.

GUILHEM: A primary reason traffic was allowed back on the 101 and containment increased dramatically was because firefighters got a break in the weather, allowing crews on the ground to get an assist from the sky.

BERTUCELLI: The wind in the region of the fire died out significantly, which allowed us to really bombard this fire from the air with both tankers and helicopters.

GUILHEM: Super Scoopers, big choppers and even special firefighting DC-10 airliners have been assisting in the effort. At one point, flames came within striking distance of former President Ronald Reagan's ranch, which at times served as the so-called Western White House. A sudden shift in the wind spared the property. This may be Southern California's first big fire of the season, but Bertucelli says Santa Barbara is no stranger to this kind of windswept blaze.

BERTUCELLI: We get these types of fires here in Santa Barbara County very regularly. And we know what needs to happen in order for us to truly get these fires under control. And what that is is we need the wind to stop.

GUILHEM: Fire crews made the most of a fairly calm weekend, but they could still have their work cut out for them. Gusting winds of up to 35 miles per hour are expected this evening.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Guilhem in Santa Barbara. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.