Bulldozer operator killed fighting Soberanes fire

A bulldozer operator died Tuesday night while batting the Soberanes Fire in Monterey County that has burned through more than 23,500 acres of land north of Big Sur, Cal Fire officials said.

The person, whose name hasn’t been released, was operating the large tractor when it overturned sometime during the night. The individual worked on an on-call basis through a private contractor, Cal Fire Capt.

Katherine Garver said.

Another privately owned bulldozer that rolled over Tuesday afternoon was later placed upright and the operator wasn’t injured, according to Garver.

The wildfire has spread to 23,568 acres since it began shortly before 9 a.m. Friday in Garrapata State Park’s Soberanes Creek and is threatening 2,000 structures. The blaze has destroyed 20 homes and two outbuildings, Cal Fire officials said.

Crews are focusing on battling the southern area of the fire in the Palo Colorado community and Rancho San Carlos west of White Rock, according to Garver.

A group of three hikers near the fire were found without injury and safely taken out of the area with help from the Monterey County sheriff’s search and rescue team and firefighters, according to Garver.

There are concerns that today’s lower humidity, build-up in high pressure and low marine layer will impact fire activity and firefighters, Garver said.

Crews continue to face difficulties reaching the fire because of the mountainous terrain of the area as flames have spread uphill through brush and timber, according to Cal Fire.

Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service are holding a community meeting at 6 p.m. today at Big Sur Lodge at 47225 state Highway 1 in Big Sur in collaboration with the state Office of Emergency Services, Monterey County and the county Sheriff’s Office.

As of this morning, the blaze is 10 percent contained and investigators estimate full containment won’t be reached until Aug. 31, Cal Fire officials said.

An inspection team has been sent to determine how much damage has been caused by the fire, but the work has been restricted because of downed power lines, falling trees and flames, Cal Fire officials said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Nearly 3,100 firefighters are working to extinguish the blaze with help from multiple resources including 306 engines, 14 helicopters and six air tankers, according to Cal Fire.

All National Forest System and California State Parks properties within the fire area have been closed. The sites include trails and roads in Los Padres National Forest, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, park officials said.

Palo Colorado Road remains closed at Highway 1, in addition to Robinson Canyon Road south of Penon Peak Trail and Weston Ridge Road at Highway 1, Cal Fire officials said.

About 300 people have been ordered to clear from areas including Old Coast Road, Rocky Creek Road and Palo Colorado. An evacuation center has been established at Carmel Middle School, Cal Fire officials said.

An evacuation warning has been sent to people in southern areas of Carmel Highlands, White Rock and Old Coast Road from Bixby Creek to Little Sur River, according to Cal Fire.