Big Sur Under Threat As California Fire Edges Closer

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) -- Flames from a huge wildfire burning through a national forest inched toward the scenic tourist town of Big Sur, where firefighters rushed Thursday to protect historic structures and hundreds of homes.

As the lightning-sparked blaze crept closer to California's coastal Highway 1, fire engines stood guard next to rustic buildings as thick smoke and ash drifted over the Pacific Ocean.

Firefighters fortified their lines near populated areas but were letting the fire rage nearly unchecked through steep mountain forests as flames torched massive redwoods and sent them toppling.

The blaze in the Los Padres National Forest was only 3 percent contained and had burned nearly 37 square miles near the coast about a mile south of Big Sur, officials said. The fire has destroyed 16 homes since breaking out Saturday.

Authorities asked residents to evacuate 75 homes along a ridge threatened by the blaze. About 500 homes were threatened in all.

A popular tourist spot along the towering coastal cliffs, Big Sur is also a storied destination for generations of American writers.

A library named after "Tropic of Cancer" author Henry Miller, who spent the last years of his life at Big Sur, was directly threatened by the fire, fire spokesman Curtis Vincent said.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service predicted more dry lightning toward the end of the week, although forecasters did not expect as severe an electrical storm as occurred last weekend, when nearly 8,000 lightning strikes sparked about 800 fires across Northern California.

The state's largest fire, about 20 miles east of Big Sur in a more remote area of the Los Padres forest, also continued to vex firefighters, having scorched more than 92 square miles and destroyed two homes. The blaze, sparked by a campfire on June 8, was about 71 percent contained.

Monterey County sheriff's officials said mandatory evacuation orders were in place for both fires, but could not specify how many people were forced from their homes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited to assess the damage and said he has called in the National Guard to help fight the fires.

"The fact is that when you have that many fires - and there are still 700 fires left all over the state of California - you get stretched thin with the resources," Schwarzenegger said.

The governor also visited Butte County, where 29 fires covering about 11 square miles raged were threatening 1,200 homes. The blazes, which were only 5 percent contained, cropped up just as the county was recovering from a fire that charred 74 homes and 36 square miles earlier this month.

Areas hit the hardest by the lightning storm also included Mendocino County, where 106 fires have burned more than 33 square miles and destroyed two homesand the Shasta-Trinity Forest, where more than 150 fires have burned about 34 square miles and forced several evacuations

Altogether, the region's wildfires had burned almost 250 square miles despite the efforts of more than 12,000 firefighters and crews from 41 states.

In rural Lake County, a fire that had burned more than 20 square miles since Sunday sent smoke drifting 150 miles south to the San Francisco Bay area, where air quality warnings were in effect.

Smoky air also forced the cancellation the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run for the first time in the grueling race's 31-year history.

The threat of fire has already led communities across Northern California to nix plans for Fourth of July fireworks.

In central New Mexico, Torrance County sheriff's deputies went door to door Thursday urging people to leave about 50 homes northeast of a forest fire in the Manzano Mountains that earlier led to the voluntary evacuations of about 350 people.

Those who had already left are from Tajique and two subdivisions on the eastern side of the mountains, said Vicki Fox, a fire information officer.

A fire in Arizona in a dry riverbed cast a pall of smoke visible across much of the Phoenix area. The fire was not threatening any homes, but several residents voluntarily left Wednesday night, said Dave Martin, Gila River deputy fire chief.

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