A wind-driven wildfire that burned right up to the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge on the Big Sur coast last week is now 65% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The Colorado fire has burned 700 acres since it first ignited Friday evening in Monterey County near Palo Colorado Canyon and the Big Sur coast, officials said. Approximately 500 people were forced to flee their homes as strong offshore winds whipped through the area.
Gusts reached up to 35 mph and spread the blaze that Cal Fire investigators says was started by hot embers from a runaway pile burning operation, where trees and brush were gathered in a pile and intentionally set on fire. Cal Fire did not specify who started the pile burn, because the investigation is ongoing.
“The wind got behind the escaped pile burn and blew those embers on to some nearby vegetation,” Cal Fire spokesperson Cecile Juliette said.
Previously, the fire was estimated to have burned 1,500 acres, but more accurate mapping cut that figure down to 700 acres by Monday.
Evacuation orders were lifted and Highway 1 reopened at noon on Wednesday, officials said. The rare January brush fire erupted after an unusually wet October and December drenched the area with record rainfalls, according to the National Weather Service. But January has been exceptionally dry in Big Sur.
Offshore winds are forecast to pick up again Thursday night and continue through Friday morning. The humidity level is expected to drop as a result.
“The winds will not be nearly as strong as they were when the fire started last Friday,” said meteorologist Ryan Walbrun, of the National Weather Service’s Monterey office. Winds in the area are expected to reach around 15 mph and there is no rain forecast for at least the next week, Walbrun said.
Firefighters estimated they would have the fire fully contained by Wednesday and said they would continue to mop up hotspots before the winds arrive.