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California wildfire forces evacuations between Carmel and Big Sur

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California wildfire forces evacuations between Carmel and Big Sur

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BIG SUR, Calif. – High winds have pushed a wildfire that started in the rugged mountains above Big Sur out to sea, forcing hundreds of residents of this precarious stretch of California’s coast to evacuate and authorities to close its main road.

The fire broke out Friday evening in a steep canyon. Fanned by wind gusts of up to 80 km/h, it quickly scorched at least 2.3 square miles of brush and redwood trees, said Cécile Juliette, spokeswoman for the Department of Forestry and Protection against the California wildfires.

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

Authorities 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-dropping planes, contained 5% of the blaze.

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

Authorities closed a section of Highway 1 with no estimate of when it would reopen. The highway along Big Sur is prone to closures due to fires and mudslides from heavy rains that caused parts of the roadway to collapse into the sea last year and in 2017.

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

High winds were recorded in the San Francisco Bay Area overnight, downing trees and power lines and causing outages for at least 18,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers in the area, the utility said. . No injuries were reported immediately.

In Sonoma County, firefighters extinguished a 5-acre blaze on Geyser Peak, where gusts over 90 mph were recorded.

The National Weather Service said a similar windy event occurred in the area nearly a year ago on the night of Jan. 18. A red flag warning of extreme fire danger was then issued due to strong winds and much drier conditions.

This time the region was still wet after December storms dumped heavy snow on the mountains and partially filled parched reservoirs, offering some relief after an exceptionally dry year.

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

“It’s unusual to have a fire of this magnitude here on the coast at the end of January,” she said. “The fact that we had a fire of this size is very concerning.”

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Gust warnings of 50 mph to 70 mph were due to go into effect across much of Southern California by mid-afternoon Saturday.

California wildfire forces evacuations between Carmel and Big Sur

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