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A U.S. Forest Service fire truck drives along Highway 1 near Pfeiffer Ridge in Big Sur, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. The fire has burned about 550 acres in the Los Padres National Forest.

Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group/MCT

Officials: Big Sur blaze now 74 percent contained

  • Article by: HAVEN DALEY
  • Associated Press
  • December 18, 2013 - 11:55 PM

BIG SUR, Calif. — A late fall wildfire that has destroyed more than a dozen homes and forced about 100 people to flee the scenic Big Sur region overlooking the Pacific Ocean was nearly three-quarters contained Wednesday.

Calm winds helped crews as they closed in on the Pfeiffer Fire in Los Padres National Forest near state Highway 1.

As of Wednesday evening, the fire had consumed about 1 1/3 square miles and was 74 percent contained, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Lynn Olson said.

The blaze began Sunday, fueled by dry vegetation and fanned by winds. It has destroyed 22 buildings, and about 13 of those structures were homes.

The cause remains under investigation.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. One hit his knee on a rock in the rough terrain and another suffered from heat exhaustion, said Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen.

Mark Nunez, the incident commander in charge of the team fighting the fire, said nearly 1,007 firefighters have assisted in battling the blaze. The forest service has spent nearly $1 million to fight it, Forest Service spokeswoman Kathleen Phelps told the Monterey Herald.

Though wildfires are unusual in Northern California at this time of year, Olson said the dry weather has made them more likely to occur.

"Usually it's wetter by this time of year, but we're in a dry cycle. We've had very little rain. We have some other conditions such as sudden oak death in this part of the forest," Olson said. "The warm winds, the warm weather, the dry conditions just line the pins all up."

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 ocean.

"Big Sur's a special place," said Howard Barbarosh, whose house was destroyed.

"Total loss. Gone, 32 years of dreams," he said at a community meeting Wednesday at the Big Sur Ranger Station. But he added, "We will rebuild on the same property because this is our home."

Despite the destruction around them, a group of carolers, including some evacuees, sang holiday songs at a nearby restaurant.

"We have people in our singing group who have been awake for 48 hours and defended and saved six homes and are very heroic," said Lisa Goettel, the group's singing instructor. "We're singing for them."

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.

Larry Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey, 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.

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