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Posted April 17, 2008 EST

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Big Sur Wildfire Closes Highway 1
United States (California) - A wildland fire burning just outside Los Padres National Forest along the Big Sur coast closed Highway 1 in both directions and forced the evacuation of several residents Wednesday. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Jan Bray said the fire was burning in "extremely heavy and tall brush on steep slopes" uphill from Highway 1 about 15 miles south of Big Sur.

The fire started around 1 p.m. about a mile south of the Esalen Institute. Although it appeared to be threatening structures, the fire was kept at bay and no houses were damaged, said Joe Pasinato, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

The Monterey County Sheriff's Office reported that residents on Dolan Road were supposed to be evacuated in the early afternoon, but as one resident tried to drive down a steep, narrow dirt road, the driver swerved to avoid another car and rolled over, deputies said, blocking the evacuation route.

It took two hours to remove the wreckage with a bulldozer, deputies said. The driver was not injured.

Officers aboard the new sheriff's office helicopter flew over residences and announced evacuations while other deputies knocked on doors.

Five residents agreed to leave, deputies said, while two stayed in their homes.

Deputies said they would remain in the area until it was safe for residents to return, which was predicted to be sometime late Wednesday.

By 9 p.m., firefighters said the blaze had consumed 10 acres and was about 60 percent

contained, with full containment likely by tonight.

Several "hot spots" remained Wednesday, but officials said there was "no appreciable rate of spread."

One lane of Highway 1 was open by 9 p.m. Wednesday, with both lanes expected to be opened by this afternoon, according to the California Highway Patrol.

No injuries to firefighters or residents were reported.

Crews from the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire and the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Department fought the fire on the ground, while a Santa Barbara County Fire Department helicopter dropped water. A state prison inmate fire crew also helped on the ground.

The California Highway Patrol closed Highway 1 in both directions just north of Esalen Institute and at Dolan Creek to the south.

While an early report indicated the fire may have been started by a car whose driver was changing a tire, officials later said the cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

Cal Fire officials said an unrelated controlled burn is scheduled to take place at 11 p.m. today on the Silacci Ranch east of Salinas and advised residents not to be alarmed.

Written by Monterey County Herald

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