Unusual late fall fire still burning in Big Sur

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A Cal Fire helicopter. (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

A Cal Fire helicopter. (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) — An unusual late fall wildfire fueled by drought conditions destroyed 15 homes and forced about 100 people to flee the forested mountains of the scenic Big Sur region overlooking the Pacific.

The slow-moving fire in Los Padres National Forest near state Highway 1 had consumed about 550 acres and was only 5 percent contained, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Lynn Olson said. Additional firefighters were brought in, bringing the total force to nearly 500.

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 was burning a little more than a mile from Ventana Inn and Spa, a favorite spot among celebrities where former Facebook president and Napster co-founder Sean Parker got married in June.

In the summer of 2008, a lightning-sparked wildfire forced the evacuation of Big Sur and blackened 250 square miles before it was contained. That blaze burned more than a dozen homes.

California’s fire season traditionally peaks by mid-fall but the drought of the last several years has given the state essentially year-round danger.

The Big Sur fire began Sunday, fueled by dry vegetation and fanned by winds.

Among the homes destroyed was that of Big Sur Fire Chief Martha Karstens. She tearfully told reporters Monday night that the loss of her home of 23 years had not yet sunk in.

“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 Monterey Herald he had gone to 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, said Larry Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey.

Smith said the Big Sur area has averaged nearly 45 inches of rain yearly between 1981 and 2010. But the area has received about 7 inches of rain this year, about 16 percent of its normal amount.

“That’s very, very dry,” Smith said.

Still, officials said they were hopeful they could contain the blaze this week as temperatures were expected to be in the 50s on Wednesday and Thursday.

“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 was under investigation.

 

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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