(06-27) 14:57 PDT BIG SUR -- Firefighters made progress Friday on
hundreds of wildfires that have consumed more than 300 square miles of
California, while a 27,000-acre wildfire appeared to have skirted and spared the
well-known resort areas of Big Sur.
Crews were reinforcing their efforts on the Basin Complex Fire that was lapping
at the celebrated coastal resort. Several restaurants, lodges and galleries have
been closed, along with a 15-mile stretch of spectacular, cliff-hugging Highway
Forecasters said there is a "slight chance" that lightning strikes will return
this weekend to Central and Northern California, although they would not be as
severe as the freak storms that sparked thousands of lightning bolts and set off
many of the blazes last weekend.
"It's not going to be anything like last weekend," said forecaster Diana
Henderson of the National Weather Service. "There is an outlying chance of dry
thunderstorms in the Sierra and Northern California, and it will be fairly dry
In the Bay Area, air quality is expected to improve somewhat today, although the
Bay Area Air Quality Management District said it will remain unhealthy for some
people in the East Bay and the Santa Clara Valley - mainly those with lung and
heart problems. Air pollution in the North Bay has improved to "moderate"
levels, the agency said.
To the south, firefighters were steering the Big Sur fire away from populated
areas and parallel to the coast. The famed Henry Miller library and several
other businesses and dwellings appear to have escaped the fire, which has
destroyed 16 homes.
Highway 1 was closed at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but the road from
Monterey to the main resorts of Big Sur remained open. At the popular Nepenthe
restaurant, which clings to the Big Sur hillside, general manager Kirk Gafill
said he planned to reopen the dining room Friday night using an emergency
The restaurant had been shut since Sunday. Fallen trees have damaged its water
system, and thick smoke has obstructed the dramatic ocean view from the deck to
perhaps 20 feet.
"It's been pretty nasty and a little surreal," Gafill said. "You feel like
you've been smoking cigarettes all day."
At Big Sur Lodge, the largest hotel in the area, a desk clerk said that scores
of people had canceled their reservations and that the hotel, which has remained
open, was only about half full.
Farther south, falling ash and polluted air forced the Esalen Institute to
cancel several of its psychology workshops and a Fourth of July music festival.
Executive Director Harry Feinberg said there are no public sessions, therapeutic
massages or skinny dipping in the celebrated cliffside hot springs, at least for
"The air has cleared a little, but we're expecting a lot of smoke and ash,"
Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told firefighters at the scene of the
3,300-acre Whiskeytown Fire near Redding that he is asking for federal disaster
relief for Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Mendocino, Butte, Shasta and
"It is clear we need every tool possible," he said. "It's very unusual to have
this many fires at any particular time."
Schwarzenegger has also declared Mendocino and Shasta counties to be state
The governor praised the 15,600 firefighters battling the blazes with 1,270
engines and 100 helicopters and planes. He called them the "most experienced,
most selfless and toughest firefighters in the world."
Thousands of those firefighters continued to battle the 10,600-acre Butte
Lightning Complex Fire in Butte County (15 percent contained), the 27,000-acre
Mendocino Lightning Complex Fire in Mendocino County (5 percent contained) and
the Shasta-Trinity Lightning Complex Fire in Shasta County (5 percent
Significant progress has been made on the 14,500-acre Walker Fire in Lake
County, now 70 percent contained.
Elsewhere in Northern California, fire forced the complete or partial closure of
several roads including highways 32, 70, 96 and 299. Areas of Butte, Shasta and
Trinity counties are under evacuation orders.