Soberanes Fire Spreading, Smoke Obscures South Bay

Fire officials say a deadly wildfire burning near California's dramatic Big Sur coast has destroyed 57 homes and is threatening 2,000 more — and it's causing huge plumes of smoke to settle in the South Bay. 

Off 101, the thick smoke caused air quality concerns.

"Obviously, it's closer so they're more impacted," said Kristine Roselius, a representative from the Bay Area Quality Management District, on the South Bay's smokey surroundings. "It's also moving the smoke east and also north, and that's why we're seeing the impacts there right now." 

The week-old blaze has also scared away tourists who are cancelling bookings after fire officials warned that crews will likely be battling a wildfire raging in steep, forested ridges just to the north for another month.

Some South Bay residents say the smoke is so bad it makes them feel sick. 

"It's really bad. I use the attic fan at night time to let the cool air in, and it's bringing the smoke in," explained Debi Snyder. "It actually made me sick to my stomach." 

Another Morgan Hill resident, Frank Ellis, said that the smoke was most noticable in the morning.

"You get up first thing..and you really smell it and see the visible smoke," he said. 

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Saturday that the blaze has grown to 52 square miles (134 square kilometers).

The blaze a few miles north of Big Sur has also killed a bulldozer operator working the fire line.

More than 5,000 firefighters are battling the wildfire that officials expect to linger until the end of August.

Officials say flames are concentrated in forested ridges above the summer fog line along the coast. Many patches of fire were in areas too steep to be reached.

Big Sur establishments were already reporting as much as a 50 percent drop in business, said Stan Russell, executive director of the chamber of commerce. That's even though the only signs of the blaze were fire trucks and an occasional whiff of smoke along the famously winding and scenic Highway 1.

Normally, this time of year "is when everybody really runs at 100 percent," Russell said Friday about tourism in the area. "This is when we make our money."

Highway 1 remained open, but signs along the narrow route warned travelers that all state parks in the area were closed because of the fire.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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