Fire Near Big Sur In California Forces Residents To Evacuate

On Saturday, firefighters were battling a wildfire that broke out in the rugged mountains along Big Sur, forcing hundreds of residents on this precarious stretch of California coastline to evacuate and authorities to close their main highway.

The fire started Friday night in a steep canyon and quickly spread out to sea, fueled by high winds of up to 50 mph (80 kph). The fire burned at least 2.3 square miles (6 square kilometers) of brush and redwood trees, said Cecile Juliette, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“The fire lined up with the wind and the terrain and that gave the fire a lot of energy to make a great run,” she said Saturday.

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Authorities have contacted about 500 residents, urging them to evacuate the sparsely populated area between Carmel and Big Sur. More than 250 firefighters from multiple agencies and volunteer groups, aided by water jets, contained 5% of the fire.

“The winds have died down and that has worked in our favor,” she said.

Authorities closed a section of Highway 1 with no estimated time for reopening. The two-lane highway along Big Sur is prone to closures due to fires and mudslides from heavy rains that caused parts of the highway to collapse last year and in 2017.

Evacuees shared dramatic images of flames burning behind the iconic Bixby Bridge on social media. The tall stretch of concrete has been the backdrop for many car commercials, movies, and TV shows, most recently the HBO drama “Big Little Lies.”

Strong winds were reported in the San Francisco Bay Area overnight, toppling trees and power lines and causing outages to at least 18,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers in the region, the utility said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

In Sonoma County, firefighters extinguished a 5-acre fire at Geyser Peak, where gusts of more than 90 mph (145 kph) were recorded. In the Sierra Nevada, winds topped 141 mph (226 kph) near the summit of Kirkwood Mountain Resort, causing several lifts to close.

In southern California, a maximum taste of 90 mph (144 kph) was recorded in the mountains east of Santa Clarita. Strong winds developed throughout the region, downing trees and power lines.

The National Weather Service said a similar windy event occurred in the Bay Area nearly a year ago. A red flag warning of extreme fire danger was then issued due to high winds and much drier conditions.

This time, the region received a reprieve from December storms that dumped heavy snow on the mountains and partially refilled dry reservoirs.

However, Juliette said the winds quickly dried out vegetation weakened by prolonged drought and low humidity.

“It’s unusual to have a fire of this size here on the coast in late January,” she said. “The fact that we have had a fire of this size is cause for great concern.”

The cause of the fire was under investigation.
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