Deadly Soberanes fire on Central Coast forces 350 residents to flee, destroys 44 structures


Southern California’s deadly Sand fire was largely under control Thursday, but a massive wildfire burning north of Big Sur has grown to more than 27,000 acres and destroyed 44 structures, fire officials said.

The Soberanes fire, which has burned out of control for days and claimed one life, has occupied more than 3,500 firefighters and is now just 10% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. To date, the fire has scorched 27,326 acres.

A damage inspection team sent to survey the area has discovered that 34 homes and 10 outbuildings were destroyed by the unpredictable blaze.


The fire, which started Friday in Soberanes Creek, is still threatening 2,000 homes and has forced at least 350 residents to flee. The fire has prompted the closure of six state parks along the Central Coast through Aug. 6, and all trails and roads in the Monterey District of Los Padres National Forest, Cal Fire said.

The aggressive fire has also claimed the life of a bulldozer operator.

The equipment operator, Robert Reagan III, was called in Tuesday to help battle the fire. At some point, he suffered fatal injuries in a remote area on the southeast end of the fire in Garrapata State Park in Carmel.

Reagan, 35, of Friant, Calif., is survived by his wife and two young daughters. A GoFundMe account was created to help assist his family.

Inspection efforts have been hampered by downed power lines, falling trees and flames, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Robert Fish.

Intensified by high temperatures and low humidity, scorching flames have severely affected soil along the rugged mountains and weakened trees already dry from years of drought, he said. Crews were removing weakened trees to avoid injuries to firefighters and damage to equipment.

The firefight has been difficult, Fish said. Exhausted firefighters have been trekking into remote, steep canyons to reach flames burning in dry brush and redwoods.

As the fire spreads, flames have begun encroaching on illegal marijuana growing operations, and leading to unexpected rescues.

On Monday, Monterey County sheriff’s deputies found two people in an area engulfed in flames.

The pair was tending to a marijuana grow when they became trapped by fast-moving flames. They popped out of a bush and requested help getting out, deputies said.

All 900 marijuana plants were destroyed by the flames.

Then on Tuesday, firefighters rescued eight men who had been lost for six days and were surrounded by flames while working on an illegal marijuana grow, the Monterey Herald reported. Cal Fire officials said the men were not injured.

Meanwhile, in the Santa Clarita Valley, firefighters have begun to gain the upper hand on the deadly Sand fire and performed a tactical fire operation Wednesday night to keep flames from spreading. The 38,346-acre blaze is 65% contained.

Almost 2,800 firefighters were working to repair defensive lines and scatter branches, sod and rocks to prevent erosion, according to the U.S. Forest Service. On Thursday, firefighters were working to construct fire lines around an area not contained east of the blaze. The steep terrain is east of the Magic Mountain Wilderness, which is 12,282 acres of land within the Angeles National Forest.

The sweeping flames overtook Robert Bresnick, 67, who was evacuating with his girlfriend and pets. He was discovered dead about 7:20 p.m. Saturday inside a burned car in a driveway outside a home in the 26700 block of Iron Canyon Road.

The deadly fires prompted acting Gov. Tom Torlakson on Tuesday to declare a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Monterey counties.

The fire danger will remain elevated as high temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity persist through Thursday statewide, according to the National Weather Service.

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1:56 p.m.: This article was updated with the identification of the bulldozer operator who was killed.

This article was originally published at 1:10 p.m.