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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Big Sur Fire worsens

The fire around Big Sur is only 3% contained and keeps on spreading.
Some of the photographs bring back memories of my hikes in Big Sur, although I avoided the resorts and restaurants because of the high prices.

Once the fires have been contained residents will have to worry about land slides during the rainy season. Their misery isn't over yet. Over 64,000 acres have now burned, 10,000 acres today alone.

From the Los Angeles Times

New fire threatens Goleta as Big Sur blaze worsens

More evacuations are ordered. Fire crews are stretched thin in California.
By Catherine Saillant and Steve Chawkins
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
July 3, 2008

GOLETA, CALIF. — Fires raged in both Northern and Southern California on Wednesday, with the stubborn blaze in Big Sur taking a turn for the worse and a new one near Goleta causing widespread power outages and burning within about a mile of neighborhoods.

In Big Sur, the 11-day-old Basin Complex fire jumped a containment line Wednesday morning, forcing more evacuations and shutting down Highway 1 -- the coastal area's principal road -- for about 30 miles. In Goleta, the 1,200-acre Gap fire took out a major Southern California Edison power line, blacking out large areas of the south coast. Authorities there urged residents to curb usage.

The turn of events in Big Sur was a setback for local residents and a number of famed resorts and restaurants that had been in harm's way earlier but reopened in the last few days.

"Up until yesterday, I would have said it's a day-to-day situation," said Kirk Gafill, the general manager of his family's six-decade-old Nepenthe restaurant. "Now, I'd say it's minute to minute, or hour to hour."Despite evacuation orders, about 12 of the 20 employees who live at the Nepenthe colony chose to stay along with Gafill.

Gafill, president of the local chamber of commerce, said most businesses on the rugged 70-mile cliff-side highway had closed. The small community of Big Sur was under evacuation orders.

Workers applied a coating of fire-resistant gel to vulnerable homes and lodges -- including the Ventana Inn and Spa -- as the unpredictable fire raged."It seems to be giving the fire guys conniption fits," said Darby Marshall, a spokesman for the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services. "It's doing things they normally wouldn't expect."

Meanwhile, about 300 firefighters mounted a campaign against the Gap fire in Santa Barbara County, using four helicopters and six air tankers to drop loads of water and chemical retardants. Much of the battle was conducted from the air as firefighters streamed in without a break from fires that have been raging across the state.

"Could we use more resources? Absolutely!" Santa Barbara County Fire Chief John Scherrei said. "But California is stretched thin."About 300 homes sit downhill and downwind from the flames, which were consuming brush that had gone untouched by fire for 54 years.

The blaze was about two miles west of the path of the 1990 Painted Cave fire, which burned 600 structures in 90 minutes."I remember how it jumped the freeway and people just had to scramble," said Christina Djernaes, 39, an attorney who was heading home to pack her valuables just in case. "I don't want that to happen this time."

Celia Breyfogle, 75, and her husband Newell, 78, had already boxed up clothing, pictures and documents by Wednesday morning."It's been a terrible year," Celia Breyfogle said. "The Midwest is getting water, water, water, and we're getting fire, fire, fire. Wish we could all share."

Motorists on U.S. Highway 101 on Wednesday could see fingers of smoke working their way down the mountain about two miles north of the freeway.The blaze started about 5:45 p.m. Tuesday near the Winchester Gun Club, said Capt.

Eli Iskow, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Investigators on Wednesday had not yet pinpointed the cause.About 40 homes in rural Glen Annie and La Patera canyons were evacuated.

An evacuation warning was issued for residents of about 300 homes above Cathedral Oaks Road, between Glen Annie Road and Fairview Avenue.

In Northern California, firefighters continued to battle the numerous lightning-triggered wildfires that have burned more than 440,000 acres.

Statewide, 7,800 homes remain threatened and 31 residences have been destroyed.Big Sur continues to be among the most threatened spots, with 17 homes lost, 1,200 still threatened and about 1,500 people evacuated.

"For the first time in my life, I saw caravans of people in cars packed with their belongings heading out of the evacuation zone," Nepenthe's Gafill said. "What I've seen on the news from many parts of the world was coming back to us."

Officials say they don't expect to have the fire contained until the end of the month at the earliest.As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, Highway 1 was closed from Limekiln State Park in the south to Andrew Molera State Park in the north.

"We know a lot of people have remained behind -- that's just the way they live," said Maia Carroll of the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services. "But we're worried for them."

In recent days, weather has helped firefighters to control the blaze, which has charred more than 61,000 acres. Fog is expected through the week, and winds from the north continued to push the blaze back on itself, slowing its march toward more populated areas.

The winds also could push the fire deeper into the Ventana Wilderness and toward the remote outpost of Tassajara Hot Springs, where the Buddhist monks of the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center have been preparing for days to fight the flames along with forest service crews.

Although the Basin Complex fire remains less than 5% contained, an even bigger blaze burning to the east in the Los Padres National Forest is expected to be fully controlled by Thursday, fire officials said.In other parts of Northern California, authorities said they were continuing to get the upper hand on more than 100 of the fires ignited by the lightning barrage June 21.

Big Sur evacuates as massive wildfire spreads
Jul. 3, 2008 06:12 AM Associated Press

BIG SUR, Calif. - Flames ominously licked the ridge overlooking this scenic coastal community, which appeared nearly abandoned Thursday after an explosive wildfire caused authorities to order more residents out of the area.

New mandatory evacuation notices were issued Wednesday for an additional 16-mile stretch along Highway 1 after the blaze jumped a fire line in the Los Padres National Forest. A total of 31 miles of the coastal highway, lined with homes and businesses, is now closed.

Several hundred evacuees attended a meeting Wednesday evening where officials braced them for a long fire season. The blaze, which already has burned 16 homes and nearly 88 square miles, was only 3 percent contained and wasn't expected to be fully surrounded until the end of the month.

John Friel, 62, who had been living with his kitten in his car for the past three days after being forced to leave his mobile home, was disappointed by the news.

"I've had six strokes this year and a heart attack. I'm feeling pretty scattered," said the retiree, who moved to Big Sur three years ago. "It was like putting a Rubik's Cube back together before, so this ain't helping. It just notches up the stress level."

The blaze near Big Sur was one of more than 1,700 wildfires - most ignited by lightning - that have scorched more than 770 square miles and destroyed 64 structures across northern and central California since June 20, according to state officials.

Mild temperatures and light winds did little to calm the inferno near Big Sur, which officials described as fuel-driven rather than wind-driven. A statewide drought has created tinder-like trees and brush, feeding the flames in California's forests.

"The fire is just a big raging animal right now," said Darby Marshall, spokesman for the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services.

Janna Fournier, one of the 850 Big Sur residents affected by the evacuation order, went to retrieve artwork and rescue her pet tarantula before roads closed Wednesday afternoon.
"I feel sad for the wilderness and the people who lost their homes," Fournier said. "We chose to live in a wilderness among all this beauty, so I know there's that chance you always take."

Helicopters hauling large containers of water droned loudly overhead as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, R. David Paulison, visited the area.

"If people evacuate like they're told to, we shouldn't lose any lives," Paulison said in an interview. "My only concern is that people don't take it seriously enough."

Some residents did choose to ignore the evacuation order, including Scott Parker, who stopped by the local general store as firefighters trimmed trees above the store to ward off flames snaking along the hillside a quarter-mile away.

"My wife and I are going to stay at least until we are in imminent danger. If there's a possibility of saving the house, then we're going to do it," said Parker, a landscaper who moved to Big Sur 30 years ago. "We've had a couple close ones, but this is the closest."

Meanwhile, a fire in the southern extension of the Los Padres forest north of Santa Barbara forced about 45 residents to evacuate as winds up to 35 mph pushed flames toward homes in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

The blaze has burned nearly 2 square miles of rough terrain, officials said. As night fell Wednesday, about 150,000 Southern California Edison customers in Goleta and Santa Barbara lost power when thick smoke forced the shutdown of power transmission lines. Crews restored power to about half of the affected customers.

In the Sequoia National Forest east of Bakersfield, firefighters struggled to contain a 22-square-mile blaze. Powerful gusts and choking smoke traveling up the steep canyons hampered their progress, and residents of neighboring towns were ordered to evacuate.

Back in Big Sur, construction worker Billy Rose helped clear brush around local businesses to protect the community where he grew up.

"Big Sur people are used to stress - rock slides, water spouts, 40-foot waves, you get numb to it," he said, looking weary as he sharpened his chain saw. "You can't tame Big Sur - this place is untamable."

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