Updated 2:15 p.m. Wednesday: With a blanket of smoke continuing to drift north from the Soberanes Fire in Monterey County, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has extended its Spare the Air alert for the region through Thursday .
As before, the Wednesday and Thursday alerts were triggered by high ozone levels, especially in the Santa Clara Valley and eastern Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The air agency and weather forecasters say no significant relief is expected from the smoky conditions until a trough of low pressure dislodges a dome of high pressure that has built over California and the Southwest. That's not expected to happen until this weekend at the earliest.
On the fire lines, Cal Fire reported that an on-call bulldozer operator, part of the 3,000-person force called in to contain the blaze just inland from the northern reaches of the Big Sur coast, was killed during night-time operations early Wednesday. The exact circumstances of the incident haven't been reported. A second dozer operator survived an accident in which his machine rolled over.
As of midday Wednesday, the Soberanes blaze, which started last Friday, had burned through about 24,000 acres of drought-desiccated chaparral and forest in the mountains between Carmel Highlands and Point Sur. The fire is just 10 percent contained and fire managers estimate that full containment won't be achieved until Aug. 31.
The fire is believed to have started in Garrapata State Park, a 3,000-acre property that features a precipitous coastal ridge. The fire has burned through virtually all of Garrapata and has prompted the closure of several other popular destinations in the area, including Andrew Molera and Julia Pfeiffer Big Sur state parks, Point Lobos Marine Reserve and the historic Point Sur lighthouse.