Big Sur Evacuated as Wildfires Race to the California Coast

SACRAMENTO, California, July 2, 2008 (ENS) – A new mandatory evacuation order has been issued for the entire scenic town of Big Sur on the central California coast as wildfire jumped a fire line today and now advances toward the town.

The evacuation order applies to about 850 residents who live in a 10 mile area from Andrew Molera State Park to Lime Kiln State Park, both the west and east sides of Highway 1, the road that hugs the cliff-lined coast.

The new order brings the total length of the evacuated area to about 25 miles of the coast, emergency officials said. The road is closed for public safety as fire crews on the ground battle what they are calling the Basin Complex of fires and tankers drone overhead, dropping water and fire retardant chemicals.

The fires are spreading due to dry conditions and high winds. Fire officials say the communities of Palo Colorado Canyon and Big Sur are areas of special concern because of numerous structures and fuels affected by sudden oak death and drought.

From midnight tonight until further notice, all national forest lands on the Monterey Ranger District will be closed to public access.

Fire consumes forestland in the hills
behind Big Sur, California. (Photo
courtesy Monterey County)

Since it was sparked by lightning on June 21, this complex of fires has destroyed 16 homes and burned 52,000 acres in the Los Padres National Forest. It is considered three percent contained and full containment is expected to take the entire month of July, fire officials estimate.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today joined Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator David Paulison at the Basin Complex Fires Incident Command Post in Big Sur.

“We still have many fires to fight, but we are already working to help the victims,” the governor said. “Putting out the fires is only part of the battle – helping people put their lives back together is just as important. The cooperation has been fantastic and I am glad to see federal support because we are likely to face many more challenges in the months ahead.”

Paulison emphasized the teamwork taking place between federal and state authorities, saying, “So far we’ve provided over $50 million to bring in extra firefighters, air tankers, fire trucks, set up base camps. All the things the state needs to help financing we’re able to do, so the local communities don’t have to worry about that. So it is a team effort. Nobody can do it alone.”

“It takes not only federal assets but it takes state, local assets, all working together as a team,” said the FEMA chief. “We saw this really gel last year with the fires in San Diego and now they’re reduplicated here.”

State, local and federal firefighters continue to battle more than 1,100 wildfires throughout California. scorched 680 square miles and destroyed 60 homes and other buildings across Northern California since June 20, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE.

The number of fires was higher several days ago, but at least 300 fires have been contained by the work of firefighters from California and firefighters that have come from throughout the nation to help battle the blazes.

In addition to military support from the National Guard and Department of Defense, 40 states and the District of Columbia are providing personnel and equipment to help California.

The area in green is the Los
Padres National Forest in
California. Two large fires
are burning, the Basin
Complex to the northwest
and the Indians Fire to the
south and east. (Map
courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

On Tuesday, Governor Schwarzenegger ordered the California National Guard soldiers to provide direct ground support to help CAL FIRE battle the blazes and as a result, they are mobilizing at least 200 soldiers to fulfill this mission. Last week, the governor ordered National Guard air assets mobilized to support firefighting efforts.

The Gap Fire in Santa Barbara County, which began yesterday evening, has resulted in a partial evacuation of the city of Goleta.

State highways and local roads are closed throughout California due to the wildfires.

Areas of Monterey, Santa Barbara and Shasta counties are under mandatory evacuation orders at this time.

Precautionary evacuation orders are in place for areas in Butte, Kern, Mariposa, Mendocino, Monterey and Shasta counties. Residents are advised to monitor the fire situation in their areas, check with local law enforcement agencies for information, and be prepared to evacuate when necessary.

Statewide the fires have burned more than 440,144 acres, 31 homes have been destroyed and 7,798 other residences are threatened along with 165 commercial buildings.

Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in 10 counties – Butte, Kern, Mariposa, Mendocino, Monterey, Plumas, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta and Trinity.

The governor today signed an Executive Order which will waive replacement fees for birth certificates, drivers’ licenses and other critical documents.

It requests that Franchise Tax Board and the state Board of Equalization to assist fire victims with filing tax extensions and provide relief from late penalties and assessments.

The order will cut red tape to speed cleanup and debris removal and to repair environmental damage from the fires.

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