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Deadly 51,000-acre wildfire near Big Sur spreads into footprint of massive 2008 Basin Complex fire

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A deadly wildfire burning along the Central Coast grew overnight to 51,000 acres, spreading into an area scorched in 2008 by one of the state’s largest blazes.

Sparked by an illegal campfire, the stubborn Soberanes fire has been burning for nearly two weeks in Monterey County in steep, rugged wilderness. Dry conditions have been fueling the massive blaze, which has remained active at night. The jagged mountains, coupled with unpredictable flames, have made the firefight difficult and allowed the fire to grow rapidly, fire officials said.

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With containment at only 27%, the wildfire is “now burning into the footprint of the 2008 Basin Complex” fire, according to the National Weather Service. Described as one of California’s largest fires in state history, the lightning-sparked blaze scorched 162,818 acres throughout the Big Sur coastline in June 2008 and destroyed 58 structures.

Although the latest wildfire is nowhere near the size of the Basin Complex fire, the Soberanes blaze is just as destructive. So far, flames have torn through 57 homes and 11 outbuildings. The fire also claimed the life of bulldozer operator Robert Reagan III, who died while helping battle the blaze.

Acting Gov. Tom Torlakson declared a state of emergency last week to help affected communities obtain aid swiftly. The blaze is threatening 2,000 homes and has prompted 300 residents to evacuate.

Raging flames also triggered state park closures along the Central Coast through Saturday, as well as a host of road closures. Trails and roads within Los Padres National Forest’s Monterey District were also closed.

More than 300 wildfires burned throughout the state last week, aided by low humidity and a summer heat wave, according to Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More than 223,000 acres have been burned by wildfires across the state so far this year, according to officials.

“We saw quite a spike in activity,” Tolmachoff said in a fire report.

Burning in Fresno County, the Goose fire remained at 2,241 acres Thursday and was 80% contained. Since it began Saturday, the Goose fire has destroyed four homes and threatened an additional 400 homes or structures.

Firefighters worked on keeping the flames from moving east and into drought-stricken woodlands, besieged by a bark beetle invasion, Tolmachoff said.

Improvements were made near Lake Berryessa, where the 4,700-acre Cold fire was burning north of Winters in Yolo County. By Thursday morning, evacuations were lifted for residents living in the Golden Bear Estates. The blaze is only 15% contained.

Flames continued to smolder in remote areas that firefighters had difficulty reaching.

Aided by aircraft, firefighters were focused on the north end of the fire and trying to hold defensive lines along Highway 128.

Southerly winds developed late Wednesday, allowing the fire to spread north.

“Ground crews as well as aircraft continue to work aggressively to extinguish the slop over,” Cal Fire said. “This goes to show the volatility of this fire and the potential for growth that might occur.”

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

For breaking news in California, follow VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

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