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Firefighters work to suppress California wildfire near Big Sur coast

CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, Calif. - Firefighters worked on Friday to suppress a deadly wildfire near California's famed Big Sur coast that has burned more than 40 homes, forced hundreds of residents to flee and closed popular parks at the height of summe...

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A charred slope smolders after the Soberanes Fire burned through the area in the mountains above Carmel Highlands, Calif. REUTERS/Michael Fiala

CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, Calif. - Firefighters worked on Friday to suppress a deadly wildfire near California's famed Big Sur coast that has burned more than 40 homes, forced hundreds of residents to flee and closed popular parks at the height of summer travel season.

The so-called Soberanes Fire erupted last Friday just south of the upscale oceanside town of Carmel-by-the-Sea and has raged through more than 31,000 acres (12,545 hectares) ofdrought-parched chaparral, tall grass and timber into the Los Padres National Forest.

Steep terrain and adverse weather conditions, particularly low humidity and high temperatures, have complicated efforts by nearly 4,300 firefighters to hack buffer lines through dense vegetation around the perimeter of the blaze, officials said.

Containment stood at 15 percent on Friday morning, even as the overall size of the fire zone kept expanding, leaving 2,000 structures threatened and about 350 people displaced.

Flames have already destroyed 41 homes and 10 outbuildings, with at least two other dwellings damaged by fire, officials said. Firefighters did manage to save a number of large homes in the hills above the exclusive Carmel Highlands community.

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The fire threat has prompted authorities to close a stretch of heavily visited California campgrounds and recreation areas along the northern end of the Big Sur coastline, including Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Point Lobos Natural Reserve.

Highway 1, the scenic route that winds along the famed seaside cliffs overlooking the Pacific, remained open, though motorists were advised to allow for traffic delays due to a heavy volume of fire-fighting equipment entering and existing the roadway.

The blaze took a deadly turn on Tuesday when a bulldozer operator hired by private property owners to help battle the flames was killed when his tractor rolled over. It was the second California wildfire fatality in a week.

He was identified on Thursday as 35-year-old Robert Oliver Reagan III, from the town of Friant, California.

On Thursday, the California Office of Emergency Services received a federal grant to help pay for firefighting efforts.

About 300 miles (485 km) away, a 67-year-old man was found dead in a burned-out car last Saturday after refusing to heed evacuation orders in a separate fire that destroyed 18 homes in a mountainous area north of Los Angeles.

That blaze, dubbed the Sand Fire, was listed as 85 percent contained on Friday morning after charring nearly 39,000 acres (15,783 hectares).

Related Topics: FIRES
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