Firefighters Continue Battle Against Big Sur Blaze

Fire crews near Groveland, a community west of Yosemite National Park. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Wildfires have raged in many parts of the state in 2013. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Update, 11:30 a.m. Tuesday: An unusual December wildfire continues to burn in Big Sur today. The fire has destroyed 15 residences and forced the evacuation of about 100 people from remote homes in the Monterey County community. The 550-acre fire, burning west of Highway 1 near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, is just 5 percent contained. The blaze has forced the closure of Clear Ridge, Pfeiffer Ridge and Sycamore Canyon roads. Here are more details from the Associated Press:

The fire in Los Padres National Forest near state Highway 1 grew by only 50 acres overnight to 550 acres, and was 5 percent contained, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Lynn Olson said.

Additional firefighters were brought in, bringing the total force to about 400, she said. The fire was also being fought from the air.

Big Sur, miles of rugged coast, cliffs and wilderness, is a popular tourist destination about 150 miles south of San Francisco with high-end resorts and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

The fire began around midnight Sunday, fueled by dry vegetation and fanned by winds. It was burning a little more than a mile from the Ventana Inn and Spa, a favorite spot among celebrities where former Facebook president and Napster co-founder Sean Parker got married in June.

Among homes destroyed in the fire was that of Big Sur Fire Chief Martha Karstens, who was tearful on Monday night even as she said the loss of her home had not yet set in, according to the Monterey Herald.

“I’m just trying to function as a chief,” she said.

Other residents anxiously tried to get information about their homes.

Jim Walters, who was up the coast in Carmel when the blaze started, told the Herald he went to the entrance to his street, local restaurants and the fire command station, but had no luck learning anything about his home.

“I don’t know where else to go,” he said.

The Red Cross set up an overnight shelter for displaced people, said Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen.

A wildfire so late in the year is unusual in Northern California, where the fire season is generally at its peak over the summer. A lightning-sparked wildfire in the summer of 2008 forced the evacuation of Big Sur and blackened 250 square miles before it was contained. That blaze burned more than a dozen homes.

But like the rest of the state, the Big Sur area has received little rainfall this year, increasing the fire danger.

Still, officials said they were hopeful they could contain the blaze this week.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re going to pin this thing down within the next couple of days,” Madsen said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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