Fire Update: Homecoming for Big Sur Evacuees

Wildfires have raged in many parts of California this year. Today one is burning at Big Sur. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Wildfires have raged in many parts of California this year. Today one is burning at Big Sur. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

UPDATE: Residents are returning to their homes -- or what remains of them -- as crews continue "mopping up" the Big Sur wildfire that destroyed at least 34 homes, reportedly including that of the local fire chief. That's a dozen more than officials had originally estimated.

Designated as the Pfeiffer Fire, the blaze began around midnight of December 17th and led to evacuations along Pfeiffer Ridge Road and burned more than 900 acres in the Los Padres National Forest west of Highway 1. Authorities declared the fire fully contained on Saturday. Eventually close to 1,000 firefighters and support personnel joined the effort, according to incident commander Kevin Poyner.

Authorities said that damage assessment teams had completed "preliminary" surveys over the weekend and found little remaining of some homes. About 100 residents were displaced, at least temporarily. Poyner said the fire is still under investigation and there is "no timeline" for publicly announcing what started it.

Original post from 12/18:

BIG SUR (AP)  Firefighters were expected to get some help Wednesday from the weather as they battle an unusual 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.


Winds were expected to be calm during the day, and there was a 20 percent chance of rain at night, according to the National Weather Service.

According to CalFire, the slow-moving Pfeiffer Fire in Los Padres National Forest near state Highway 1 had consumed 769 acres, or a little over a square mile, by Tuesday night and was 20 percent contained. Full containment was expected by late Friday.

It has destroyed 22 buildings, Los Padres National Forest spokesman Lynn Olson said. About 14 of those structures were homes, she said.

No injuries have been reported.

Mark Nunez, the incident commander of the team fighting the fire, said 829 firefighters had deployed to the area, and thus far, weather has been working in their favor.

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.

The Big Sur fire began Sunday, fueled by dry vegetation and fanned by winds.

The Monterey County Sheriff's Department issued an evacuation watch Tuesday afternoon for the area west of Highway 1 between Fernwood Resort and River Inn, but no more mandatory evacuations were ordered. Highway 1 remains open, Olson said.

A wildfire so late in the year is unusual in Northern California, where the fire season is generally at its peak over the summer, said Larry Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey.

Smith 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.

"That's very, very dry,'' Smith said.

Still, officials said they were hopeful they could contain the blaze this week as temperatures were expected to be in the 50s on Wednesday and Thursday.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.