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Low humidity, difficult terrain hamper Soberanes fire fight

Soberanes fire
Jeff Turpin hikes up a hillside with a chain saw Saturday while cutting a fire break for the Soberanes fire.
(David Royal / Monterey County Herald)

Low humidity and steep, inaccessible terrain continued Monday to challenge the thousands of firefighters battling the Soberanes fire, a deadly blaze that threatens 2,000 homes and structures north of Big Sur.

The fire, which has been raging for more than 10 days, had burned 40,700 acres and was only 18% contained as of Monday evening, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“The fire is continuing to eat at acreage; it’s still chipping away,” said Bennet Milloy, a Cal Fire spokesman.

The blaze has caused smoky conditions for those near Monterey Bay, and air quality concerns across the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Just over a quarter of the fire is in the Monterey Ranger District of Los Padres National Forest, and about 28,000 acres were burning in state-controlled land, including state parks and private property, Milloy said.

Since it started at Soberanes Creek in Garrapata State Park, the fire has destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings. Five other structures were damaged.

The wildfire killed Robert Reagan III, a bulldozer operator called in July 26 to help battle the fire. At some point, he suffered fatal injuries in a remote area on the southeast end of the fire in the state park in Carmel, authorities said.

Reagan, 35, was a Fresno County resident and the father of two young girls, the Monterey Herald reported.  

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The blaze has been “unusually active” at night, hampering the firefight, Milloy said.

“Most fires, we get a little bit of moisture recovery and humidity at night, but, unfortunately, that has not been the case on this entire fire so far, so we haven’t had that slower fire growth,” Milloy said.

Humidity as low as 5% has been recorded at night, which is “incredibly low,” he said. The fire is burning in peaks up to 4,000 feet high, where the marine layer has had little effect in cooling things down, he said. 

Firefighters are working in “pretty extreme, steep terrain,” which has limited much of the battle to ridge-top firefighting, Milloy said. 

Crews also have been challenged by erratic, shifting winds. 

Nearly 5,300 firefighters were battling the blaze, which has burned an area larger than the city of San Francisco. 

The fire has prompted hundreds of evacuations and the closure of numerous state parks along the Central Coast through Aug. 6, as well as all trails and roads into the Monterey Ranger District of Los Padres National Forest. 

Flames have encroached on illegal marijuana-growing operations and have forced rescues.

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On July 25, two people were tending to marijuana plants when they became trapped by flames. They were found by Monterey County sheriff’s deputies, and all 900 marijuana plants were destroyed by the fire. 

The next day, 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, crews have made good progress battling the 2,020-acre Goose fire south of Prather in Fresno County, according to Cal Fire. That blaze began Saturday afternoon off Gooseberry Lane and Morgan Canyon and has destroyed three homes.

By Monday night, the Goose fire was 20% contained and 1,625 firefighters were deployed to control the flames. The fire threatened 400 structures.  

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As with many of the recent California wildfires, excessive heat, steep terrain and drought-dried vegetation have also been factors in fighting the Goose fire, which is burning in grass and oak woodlands, authorities said. 

In Los Angeles County, firefighters continued to reinforce fire lines and mop up hot spots from the Sand fire in Angeles National Forest near Santa Clarita. Though hot spots remained by the fire line on the southeast side Sunday, the fire was not expected to spread, authorities said. 

Temporary road closures along Sand Canyon, Placerita Canyon and Little Tujunga Canyon roads  are expected to take place intermittently in the fire-affected areas this week as utility crews repair power lines. 

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The Sand fire, which burned 41,432 acres and has been blamed for the death of one man, was 98% contained.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

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UPDATES:

9:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information on the growth of the Goose and Soberanes fires.

This article was originally published at 9:35 a.m.


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