BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) - A pair of out-of-control wildfires roared along California's central coast Friday, chewing through opposite ends of a parched forest and threatening more than 4,500 homes hundreds of miles apart.
While flames from the stubborn fire in the northern flank of the Los Padres National Forest inched closer to Big Sur's historic vacation retreats, state emergency officials said hot evening winds had caused a newer blaze 200 miles south in Santa Barbara County to double in size overnight.
Residents of more than 1,700 homes in and around the city of Goleta were ordered to evacuate, joining an equal number of people who were told to leave Big Sur days earlier. Driven by wind gusts of up to 40 mph., the Santa Barbara County fire was so fierce early Friday that firefighters at one point took shelter in about 70 homes they were trying to defend, said Capt. Eli Iskow of the county fire department.
"Hundreds of firefighters were in place around hundreds of structures," Iskow said. "I think we saved every one of those structures in that area." The severity of the blaze also prompted the Goleta Rotary Club to cancel its 34th annual Fourth of July fireworks display.
Wind was less of a problem in Big Sur, which remained eerily empty under a thick blanket of fog and smoke at the start of the long holiday weekend. No more properties were lost since Thursday, but the density of the parched terrain allowed the 13-day-old wildfire to keep advancing on the storied tourist town, where flames were making their way toward scenic Highway 1 and sending forest creatures running toward the Pacific Ocean for cover.
"It came down into the canyon last night. I couldn't sleep. It's still in there lurking about," said Kurt Mayer, who ignored the mandatory evacuation orders to douse his Big Sur Deli with fire-retardant gel.
Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said weather forecasts calling for winds to kick up again in the afternoon had officials worried the outlook for both blazes was not going to improve anytime soon.
By Friday morning, the Big Sur was 5 percent contained and had
consumed more than 100 square miles and 20 homes, while the Goleta
fire was 10 percent contained and had destroyed about a half-dozen
out buildings and more than eight square miles.
The Los Padres blazes were two of 335 active wildfires burning in California, down from a peak of roughly 1,500 fires a few days ago, but they were commanding the greatest share of equipment and personnel because of their locations near populated areas, Berlant
"Any time we have structures threatened and lives at risk, it's a top priority," he said.
Another fire generating concern is in the Sequoia National Forest east of Bakersfield, where a wind-driven wildfire had burned 25 square miles, destroyed one home and threatened 1,000 more in nearby communities.
Associated Press writer Jacob Adelman in Los Angeles and Jordan
Robertson in Carmel, Calif., contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)