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Originally published December 18, 2013 at 6:06 AM | Page modified December 18, 2013 at 11:35 PM

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1,000 firefighters battling Big Sur blaze

Officials are hopeful that a late fall wildfire in California's Big Sur region will soon be fully contained, after the flames destroyed more than a dozen homes and forced about 100 people to flee.


Associated Press

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BIG SUR, Calif. —

Officials are hopeful that a late fall wildfire in California's Big Sur region will soon be fully contained, after the flames destroyed more than a dozen homes and forced about 100 people to flee.

As of Wednesday night, the fire had charred about 1 1/3 square miles of territory and was 74 percent contained, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Lynn Olson said.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel," the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade announced on its Web site late Wednesday evening. "Hopefully, with the outstanding efforts of all the personnel involved, full containment will be achieved by 6:00 PM on Friday."

Mark Nunez, the incident commander in charge of the team fighting the fire, said 1,007 firefighters have assisted in battling the blaze. The Forest Service has spent nearly $1 million to fight it, spokeswoman Kathleen Phelps told the Monterey Herald.

Calm winds helped crews as they closed in on the Pfeiffer Fire in Los Padres National Forest near state Highway 1.

The blaze began Sunday, fueled by dry vegetation and fanned by winds. It has destroyed 22 buildings, and about 13 of those structures were homes.

The cause remains under investigation.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. One hit his knee on a rock in the rough terrain and another suffered from heat exhaustion, said Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen.

Though wildfires are unusual in Northern California at this time of year, Olson said the dry weather has made them more likely to occur.

"Usually it's wetter by this time of year, but we're in a dry cycle. We've had very little rain. We have some other conditions such as sudden oak death in this part of the forest," Olson said. "The warm winds, the warm weather, the dry conditions just line the pins all up."

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.

"Big Sur's a special place," said Howard Barbarosh, whose house was destroyed.

"Total loss. Gone, 32 years of dreams," he said at a community meeting Wednesday at the Big Sur Ranger Station. But he added, "We will rebuild on the same property because this is our home."

Despite the destruction around them, a group of carolers, including some evacuees, sang holiday songs at a nearby restaurant.

"We have people in our singing group who have been awake for 48 hours and defended and saved six homes and are very heroic," said Lisa Goettel, the group's singing instructor. "We're singing for them."

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.

Larry Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey, 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.

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Associated Press writers Terry Collins and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.



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