Calif. firefighters dig in to protect Big Sur

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

IG SUR, Calif. (AP) -- With temperatures rising, firefighters dug in Friday for a long battle against flames creeping toward this storied tourist town.

"This is not going away anytime soon," said Mark Savage, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Low humidity did little to slow the fire overnight, and temperatures were expected to be noticeably higher Friday than the day before.

The massive lightning-sparked wildfire burning through the Los Padres National Forest and toward the town of Big Sur on Thursday. Firefighters rushed to protect about 575 threatened homes and historic structures.

They allowed the fire to rage nearly unchecked through steep mountain forests, where flames torched massive redwoods and sent them toppling.

The blaze was only 3 percent contained, and had burned nearly 42 square miles near the coast about a mile south of Big Sur, officials said.

The fire has destroyed 16 homes and two outbuildings since breaking out Saturday, and officials have issued voluntary evacuation notices to residents in 75 homes along a ridge threatened by the blaze.

Authorities closed a long stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway threatened by the blaze, shutting off access to several lodges, restaurants and art galleries that depend on tourism. Motorists who had planned to drive south along the coast were forced to turn around.

Dutch travelers Joost Ueberbach, 28, and Gemma Arts, 27, had wanted to drive through Big Sur on their way to Los Angeles from San Francisco when they ran into the roadblock Thursday.

"We knew there was a fire somewhere, but we didn't know the road was blocked," Ueberbach said. "We had hoped to see the nice views of the coastline. I guess it's just bad luck."

A popular area along the towering cliffs of the central California coast, Big Sur is also a destination for generations of American writers and artists.

Fire crews on Thursday beat back flames that threatened a small roadside library named after "Tropic of Cancer" author Henry Miller, who lived in Big Sur for many years.

Just down the road, firefighters maintained fire lines and doused flames near the home of Hal Newell, who'd been forced to flee five days earlier.

"I feel real glad to still have a place to live," said Newell, who has lived in Big Sur since he was born in 1938.

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 the area had last weekend, when nearly 8,000 lightning strikes sparked about 800 fires across Northern California.

The region's wildfires had burned almost 250 square miles despite the efforts of more than 12,000 firefighters.

Fire crews from 41 states have arrived to help California firefighters battle hundreds of blazes that are darkening skies over the San Francisco Bay area and Central Valley.

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


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