Massive oil spill off California coast shuts down beaches, cancels air show

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Oil washed up on Huntington Beach, Calif., on Sunday., Oct. 3, 2021. A major oil spill off the coast of Southern California fouled popular beaches and killed wildlife while crews scrambled Sunday, to contain the crude before it spread further into protected wetlands. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (KTLA) — A massive oil spill off the Southern California coastline has prompted the closure of beachfront areas from the Huntington Beach Pier down to Newport Beach, according to city officials Sunday morning.

At least 126,000 gallons (98,420 liters) of oil spilled into the waters off Orange County, according to a statement from the city of Huntington Beach.

The slick, which was first reported on Saturday afternoon by the Coast Guard, is approximately 13 square miles in size. It’s located about three miles from Newport Beach.

“The spill has significantly affected Huntington Beach, with substantial ecological impacts occurring at the beach and at the Huntington Beach Wetlands,” officials said in a statement.

The spill is thought to come from a pipeline leak and has seeped into nearby Huntington Beach, including in Talbert Marsh, which is home to about 90 species of birds, according to the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy.

Authorities are urging people to avoid the beach areas around Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.

The oil spill has also prompted the cancellation of the final day of the Great Pacific Airshow. Officials say the decision to cancel the popular event was made so that the city, along with the U.S. Coast Guard and state agencies, could focus on the cleanup and investigation of the 126,000-gallon oil spill.

Boats helping clean up an oil spill are seen from the shore in Huntington Beach, California on October 3, 2021, after a pipeline breach connected to an oil rig off shore started leaking oil, according to an Orange County Supervisor. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

“In order to facilitate clean-up efforts, and given the potential health impacts, the decision has been made to cancel the final day of the show due to yesterday’s spill,” officials said in a statement. “We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you in advance for your understanding.”

“I was pretty bummed. We woke up at 3 in the morning and got ready to come to the air show,” said Wesley Meacham, an Irvine resident. “We got here and we were told that it was canceled because of the oil, and I was just thinking how unlucky we were to have an oil spill on the day we were supposed to come.”

A person shows oil on their fingers after touching it on the beach in Huntington Beach, California on October 3, 2021, after a pipeline breach connected to an oil rig off shore started leaking oil, according to an Orange County Supervisor. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

The 5th annual air show began Friday morning at the Huntington Beach Pier and drew about 1.5 million visitors to the beach on Saturday. The event was scheduled to run through Sunday afternoon.

“The city acknowledges the gravity of the decision to cancel the final day of the iconic Pacific Airshow, and the disappointment that this decision will cause,” officials stated. “However, the need for prompt and intensive intervention efforts requires complete and unfettered access to the marine environment.”

Officials from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are asking residents to not attempt to help the animals affected by the oil spill, and to report any animal sightings to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 877-823-6926.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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