The deadly wildfire raging north of Big Sur continued to grow in size on Sunday and has now burned 40,000 acres and destroyed nearly 70 structures. About 5,300 firefighters are battling the Soberanes fire, which is now just 18% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Since it began July 22, the fire has also claimed the life of a bulldozer operator.
Pushed by strong southerly winds, the blaze has shifted away from coastal homes and is moving southeast into the heart of the Los Padres National Forest, said Maria Lara, spokeswoman for Cal Fire.
“It’s good in a way, but it means there will be more acreage burning,” Lara said. “It’s also more steep terrain to put our crews in, and sometimes we don’t have access to those areas.”
Cal Fire said that the blaze, which is larger than the area of the city of San Francisco, “remained active” on Sunday, traveling uphill and sending out embers that sparked spot fires.
Since it started at Soberanes Creek in Garrapata State Park, the fire spread and now threatens 2,000 homes and structures, according to Cal Fire. Some 57 homes and 11 outbuildings have been destroyed. Three homes and two buildings have also suffered damage.
The wildfire killed Robert Reagan III, a bulldozer operator called in Tuesday to help battle the fire. At some point, he suffered fatal injuries in a remote area on the southeast end of the fire in Garrapata State Park in Carmel, authorities said.
The fire has prompted the closure of six state parks along the Central Coast through Aug. 6, and all trails and roads in the Monterey District of Los Padres National Forest, Cal Fire said.
About 500 residents have been evacuated in Palo Colorado and the areas of Rocky Creek, Weston Ridge Road, Garrapatos Road, and Highway 1 at Old Coast Road south to Old Coast Road at Bixby Creek Road.
On Sunday morning, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department issued evacuation warnings for parts of the communities of Tassajara and Cachagua.
Palo Colorado, Robinson Canyon Road and Weston Ridge Road at Highway 1 were closed.
Flames have also encroached on illegal marijuana growing operations and led to unexpected rescues.
On Monday, two people were tending to marijuana plants when they became trapped by flames. They were found by Monterey County sheriff’s deputies. All 900 marijuana plants were destroyed by the fire. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.