A massive wildfire burning near Big Sur in Monterey County was started by an illegal, unattended campfire, officials said Tuesday.
The Soberanes Fire is now the top firefighting priority in the state, according to officials. The blaze broke out July 22 and is expected to burn for a full month more, Cal Fire officials said.
Flames have charred more than 44,300 acres and were roughly 25 percent contained Tuesday. The blaze has also destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings, and is threatening 2,000 additional structures.
In addition, three homes and two outbuildings were damaged, and a bulldozer operator was killed.
The fire is now heading into the wilderness, which although sparsely populated, is dotted with dead trees and brush, dried from four years of drought, Cal Fire officials said.
Firefighters on Monday got help from a spike in humidity and lower temperatures, and were hopeful for more of the same Tuesday. Officials said more than 5,450 firefighters from across California are fighting the fire in steep terrain that is considered some of the most extreme in the United States.
However, crews from the state's largest cities, including San Francisco, are being rotated out. They will be replaced by others who drive smaller trucks equipped with four-wheel drive and hand crews.
Two thousand National Guardsmen are also expected to join 1,600 others already on the fire lines. They are trained to fight fires in steep canyons on foot.
As large fire engines used to protect homes and businesses, leave the area, Cal Fire officials are reassuring Carmel Valley homeowners that further evacuations are unlikely.
"We are pretty confident that we have good protection for structures in that area now," said Cal Fire Capt. Richard Cordova. "But, of course, it’s always up to Mother Nature."
All California State Parks from Point Lobos State Natural Reserve through Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park are closed until further notice. Full containment is not expected until Aug. 31.