Updated Toll in Big Sur Fire: Nearly 68 Square Miles Burned, 57 Homes Destroyed

The Soberanes Fire burns near the Big Sur coast. The fire burned 43,400 acres and was 18 percent contained as of 7 a.m. on Aug. 2, 2016. (Cal Fire via Twitter)

Update, 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2: The Soberanes Fire has burned 43,400 acres, or nearly 68 square miles, and remains at 18 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

The fire has destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings. An additional three structures and two outbuildings were damaged.

About 2,000 structures remain threatened, according to Cal Fire.

Meteorologists say the weather is not expected to aid the more than 5,400 fire personnel battling the blaze. For the next few days temperatures in the fire area, along the northern Big Sur coast, are expected to remain in the mid-to-high 90s, with cool coastal air failing to reach the fire during the night.

“You know it’s typical summer-type weather with steep temperature contrasts from inland areas to the coast,” National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Canepa said. “Really, we don’t see too much change actually through the week and probably pretty much through the month.”

The Soberanes Fire continues to chew through rugged, drought-stressed terrain along the northern Big Sur coast, exacting a rising toll in property damage.


Fire managers said that as of Monday morning, the fire has burned nearly 41,000 acres — about 63.4 square miles, an area about three-quarters the size of Oakland. The blaze is 18 percent contained and has destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings since it began in Garrapata State Park on July 22.

The blaze threatens as many as 2,000 more homes, Cal Fire says. Several hundred people in the area — inland and southeast of the town of Carmel, have been forced to leave their residences as the fire has spread.

An extraordinarily large force of fire personnel — nearly 5,300 people — has been deployed to contain the blaze. Fire managers said last week that full containment could take until Aug. 31; they added over the weekend that in the worst case, the blaze could grow more than fourfold from its current area and reach 170,000 acres.

If that scenario comes to pass, the Soberanes would join two other Big Sur fires as among the largest in modern California history. The Marble Cone Fire, a lightning-sparked blaze, torched 177,866 drought-desiccated acres in 1977. The Basin Complex Fire burned 162,818 acres in 2008.

On its southern flank, the Soberanes Fire has burned into the footprint left by the Basin conflagration. Fire managers have commented that the fuels in the area, including fallen logs and dead or dying standing trees called snags, are heavier than expected for an area that burned so recently.

Among those concerned about the fire’s impact are grape growers and winemakers. According to KION, the local CBS outlet in Salinas:

Monterey County’s wine industry is worth more than $100 million. Even though Carmel Valley only produces one percent of the county’s wine, the fire could shake things up.

The Soberanes Fire is burning seven to eight miles away from the nearest vineyard in Carmel Valley, but it carries a more immediate threat.

“We have to worry about something called smoke taint, which is when ash and smoke affects the skins of the grapes. And then if it affects the skins of the grapes, it can affect the wine,” said Kim Stemler, executive director of Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association.

It’s unclear if it will happen but if it does, there are ways in the production line where it can be treated.

“Most of the grapes in Carmel Valley have not gone through veraison,” Stemler said. “Veraison is where the grapes change colors. After veraison, they’re really susceptible to smoke taint, so since it’s still really early, it’s a good sign.”

Original post (Friday, July 29): A virtual army of firefighters — nearly 4,300 people — has entered the second week of its battle to contain a major wildfire spreading through the mountains just inland of the northern Big Sur coast.

Cal Fire says that the Soberanes Fire, which started in Garrapata State Park last Friday morning, has burned 31,386 acres. That’s 49 square miles, roughly the same area as San Francisco. The blaze is just 15 percent contained, with full containment forecast to take another month.

Smoke from the fire continues to prompt Spare the Air alerts in the Bay Area and is contributing to poor air quality throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

Officials say that the fire has burned 41 homes so far and threatens as many as 2,000 others. About 350 residents of the sparsely populated area have been forced from their homes.
As in most of California’s backland wildfires, fire crews and heavy equipment operators are contending with precipitously steep terrain. On top of that, the last five years of drought have left the heavily forested fire locale full of dead, dying and diseased trees.Cal Fire reports the blaze is just 15 percent contained. Full containment is not expected for another month, and a glance at the daily battle plan put together by federal and state fire commanders suggests why weeks of hard work lie ahead.

And although the weather hasn’t been terrible — winds have been light, for instance — it hasn’t really been a friend to firefighters either. The marine layer — the stratum of cool, moist air that brings cooling fog to inland locales during the summer months — has been very shallow since the fire started. And persistent high pressure over California and the Southwest has led to a temperature inversion in which a layer of very warm air is lying over cool air at the surface.
The fire has claimed one life so far. On Thursday, Cal Fire identified a bulldozer driver killed earlier this week as Robert Reagan III of Friant, a town just north of Fresno. Reagan reportedly suffered fatal injuries when his machine overturned on a steep slope.Those factors have led to intensely smoky conditions in the fire zone that have occasionally limited the use of firefighting aircraft. Weather above the marine layer — in terrain above an elevation of 500 to 1,000 feet east of Highway 1 — has been sunny, hot and dry and, except for the relatively light winds, is ideal for burning. What’s more, low humidity after nightfall — often a time when moisture increases and fire behavior may moderate — has offered little relief to firefighters. Little change in these conditions is expected in the coming days.


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