Brendan Weber

Soberanes Fire Gets Help from Bay Area Fire Crews, Impacts Air Quality

Firefighters late Monday were still working to tame the Soberanes fire that was rapidly charring acreage and chasing people from their homes in Monterey County.

The blaze has scorched more than 16,000 acres since Friday and is 10 percent contained. Twenty homes have been destroyed and 1,650 more structures are threatened, which has forced residents near the Palo Colorado community, Rocky Creek, Weston Ridge Road, state Highway 1 at Old Coast Road and Garrapatos Road to leave the area, Cal Fire officials said.

Multiple strike teams, including those from Solano County, Alameda County and San Mateo County as well as one engine from Contra Costa County, were battling the wildfire. More than 2,200 firefighters were on the scene.

The fire is burning near Soberanes Creek and Garrapata State Park, just north of Big Sur, according to Cal Fire.

"The fire is burning in the southeast direction and that is mostly wilderness area, but there are homes and cabins there," Cal Fire Capt. Lucas Spellman said.

Fire crews also came upon a new challenge after it was discovered that bark beetles have killed hundreds of trees, leaving them tinder dry.

"So we have (up to) 70-foot tall trees waiting to burn," Spellman said.

Soberanes Fire Spreads, Impacts Air Quality

Many of those forced to evacuate have been staying at Carmel Middle School, where the American Red Cross has set up a shelter. The SPCA reports it has rescued 20 animals, including cats, baby turkeys and even a pet tarantula.

Fire officials held a community meeting Monday night at Carmel River Elementary School in Carmel-by-the-Sea to update evacuees, who were wondering when they would be able to return to their homes. 

One resident, Jessica Cooper, no longer had a home to go back to.

"I'm just trying to pick up the pieces of my life," Cooper said. "I'm so thankful we were able to get our pets. I'm mourning for my neighbors who were not able to get their pets. There was nothing that could be done."

Resident Jim Woodard left his house for a friend's home farther from the flames, only to be evacuated again - and then once more Sunday.

"I was headed to a friend's house in the highlands, but the word just went out they're evacuating the highlands now as well, so I'm three for three," Woodard said.

Cal Fire said it may be days before people can go home.

"Once the vegetation is gone, it loosens up boulders, and we had a boulder that rolled down the hill and went into a fire engine and destroyed the fire engine," said Cal Fire Capt. Richard Cordova. "So we don't want to send the public in and then have one of those accidents occur to them."

A Spare the Air alert was already in effect Monday around the Bay Area because of car smog, and the air quality worsened as a result of statewide fires pumping smoke into the air, authorities said.

Kristine Roselius from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District warns that poor air quality can impact people of all ages, not just the elderly or those with breathing issues.

"Smoke from wildfires can carry particulate matter over a wide area, and if it drifts downward, it can cause problems even for healthy people," she said. "They can suffer respiratory problems, watery eyes, itchy throat and coughing."

For the latest on the Soberanes fire, visit the Cal Fire website.

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