By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – The historic Hearst Castle, a major tourist attraction on California’s central coast, will be closed to the public through the week as a safety precaution due to a wildfire in the area that has destroyed more than 30 homes, state officials said on Monday.
The monumental estate, built in the early 20th century for publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, was no longer in immediate danger, but the so-called Chimney Fire had crept within 3 miles (5 km) of the castle over the weekend before shifting direction, authorities said.
The blaze, one of a half-dozen large wildfires currently raging across California, has charred nearly 32,000 acres (12,950 hectares) and destroyed 48 structures, including 34 dwellings, since erupting on Aug. 13 in the rugged coastal mounts of San Luis Obispo County.
Nearly 1,900 structures were listed as threatened and about 2,500 people remained under evacuation orders on Monday.
But crews had carved containment lines around 35 percent of the fire’s perimeter, and the blaze was burning mostly toward the northeast, away from the castle and populated areas, said Stacey Nolan, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Nevertheless, the California Parks and Recreation Department said the castle, a state-designated “historical monument” that hosts nearly 800,000 visitors a year, would be kept closed through Aug. 28 “due to the proximity of the wildfire.”
Public tours of Hearst’s 124-room “vacation home,” Casa Grande, were initially suspended on Saturday as flames neared the estate, marking the first major fire threat to the landmark property since the 1960s, parks spokesman Dennis Weber said.
For generations of movie buffs, the castle grounds are significant as the inspiration for the fictional Xanadu estate in the 1941 film classic “Citizen Kane,” starring Orson Welles as a self-made mogul and politician loosely based on Hearst.
California was one of nine Western states contending with a rash of about 30 some blazes that have scorched more than 400,000 acres (162,000 hectares) combined across the drought-parched region.
Emergency officials confronting a cluster of wildfires with limited resources in eastern Washington state enlisted the help of local farmers to help battle flames that have destroyed about two dozen buildings near Spokane, authorities said on Monday.
Three blazes burning largely unchecked around the outskirts of Spokane, the state’s second-largest city, had collectively blackened about 13,000 acres (5,260 hectares) of dry brush, grass and timber, with zero percent containment, officials said.
The blazes all erupted on Sunday, stoked by extremely hot, dry weather and gusty winds. Cooler temperatures, rising humidity and diminished winds were expected to help crews gain some ground on Monday, as firefighting reinforcements arrived.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)