Big Sur wildfire now 79 percent contained

AP Photo/ Monterey County Herald

Rain and higher humidity on Thursday helped firefighters battling a wildfire in California's Big Sur region that has destroyed an estimated 22 homes.

The fire in the Los Padres National Forest was 79 percent contained, up 5 percent from the previous day, after having burned about 1.4 square miles, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kathleen Phelps said. Full containment was expected by Thursday night.

“We've gotten a little bit of moisture and a whole lot more humidity. That's really helped the firefighters be able to complete almost all of the lines so far,” Phelps said.

The hundred or so people who were evacuated should be allowed back in their homes on Friday, she said.

Officials estimated that 22 homes were destroyed, but said crews were planning to head into the fire zone on Thursday to get an exact count. Flames were no longer visible from Highway 1 in the morning, as it continued to drizzle in the area.

Lygia Chappellet, a Big Sur resident, said she was comforted by what she saw on Thursday.

“Seeing the green trees all around us this morning in the light as opposed to the burned landscape across the canyon here, it's a huge relief,” she said.

The blaze began Sunday and was fueled by dry vegetation and winds. The cause is under investigation.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. One hit his knee on a rock in the rough terrain and another suffered from heat exhaustion, officials said.

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. 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.

A wildfire so late in the season there is unusual, but conditions have been particularly dry this year. The area received less than 20 percent of its average rainfall in 2013, officials said.

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