California wildfire threatens famed Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle, the inspiration for Xanadu in Orson Welles' 1941 classic, 'Citizen Kane,' has been closed because of an approaching wildfire.

Joe Johnston/The Tribune (of San Luis Obispo)/AP
A helicopter flies past Hearst Castle on its way to fight a wildfire in San Simeon, Calif., Saturday. A growing wildfire in central California has forced the closure of the historic mansion.

Firefighters continued to battle a blaze Monday that came within two miles of the real-life Xanadu, the exorbitant mansion in Orson Welles’s 1941 film, “Citizen Kane.”

Crews at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif., made headway against the Chimney Fire, which has burned more than 30,000 acres halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But, the tourist attraction along the central California coast remained closed to the public Monday, according to the state's Department of Parks and Recreation.

“When the weather and winds die down a bit, we can use that to our advantage,” said Cal Fire spokesman Rich Brocchini, adding the fire remained volatile, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Hearst Castle is a piece of history in California, and we are protecting that.”

The Hearst Castle was the hilltop mansion of William Randolph Hearst, the late newspaper mogul. While it was the clear inspiration for the home of the fictional Charles Foster Kane, Welles’ character he loosely based on Hearst, the mansion wasn’t completed until six years after the movie debuted. Nevertheless, it has been an important attraction in the region ever since the Hearst family donated part of the property to the state.  

About 400 firefighters and castle crews fought to keep the Chimney Fire from spreading to the estate. Firefighters burned away brush, grass and other vegetation from hills and canyons Sunday to create a containment line about two miles east of the castle, according to the Tribune newspaper in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Air tankers also blanketed the hilltops with a hot-pink retardant, the newspaper reported.

Inside the castle, the museum collections and curatorial staff also covered windows and placed towels along door frames to prevent smoke damage, Rob Chambers, a State Parks supervising ranger, told the Chronicle. While the collection of 25,000 works of art and artifacts remained in place, Chambers said a contingency plan exists if the fire were to further threaten the mansion. 

A coastal marine layer and a shift in winds Sunday into Monday aided firefighters in keeping the blaze away from the estate. But firefighters didn’t have similarly favorable conditions elsewhere in the region. The Chimney Fire, which started about a week go, remained at just 35 percent contained Monday.

Firefighters closer to Los Angeles won a key victory against the Blue Cut Fire in the Cajon Pass area, the Christian Science Monitor’s Weston Williams reported Monday.The 37,020-acre fire was 85 percent contained, prompting the evacuation orders for 82,000 residents last week to be lifted. 

Some, however, warn these large, fast-growing wildfires will become more and more prevalent in a region slammed by a five-year drought and triple-digit temperatures. Wildfires have burned about 530 square miles in eight western states just this week.

"It's to the point where explosive fire growth is the new normal this year," California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Glenn Barley told the Associated Press.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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