Environment & Science

Soberanes Fire: Big Sur wildfire rages on

Smoke from the Soberanes Fire spreads over woods, as seen from White Rock in Carmel Valley, southeast of Monterey, Calif., Wednesday, July 27, 2016.
Smoke from the Soberanes Fire spreads over woods, as seen from White Rock in Carmel Valley, southeast of Monterey, Calif., Wednesday, July 27, 2016.
Nic Coury/AP

Firefighters gained a little ground on a wildfire burning along California's Big Sur coastline as the fire remained moderate over Saturday night.

The Soberanes Fire in Monterey County has burned more than 38,000 acres and is 15 percent contained.

It has destroyed at least 57  homes and put at least 2,000 homes and other buildings at risk. The massive blaze has forced at least 350 residents to flee.

More than 5,000 firefighters are battling the wildfire, which began burning on Friday, July 22. Officials expect it to linger until the end of August.

Fire Tracker: Soberanes Fire in Monterey County

A 35-year-old father of two girls was killed this week when the bulldozer he was operating rolled over on the fire lines.

On Thursday he was identified as Robert Reagan, a 35-year-old father of two daughters from Fresno County who also helps care for a young niece, according to his sister Hannah Cunnings.

Cunnings said he was the kind of person who would offer to put snow chains on a neighbor's car or fix an engine that needed repair.

"Even since he was a boy, he just really wanted to help people," she said, crying.

Firefighters worked in rugged terrain near State Highway 1 in an area that draws tourists from around the world for the dramatic vistas of ocean and mountains. The famous roadway remained open, but smoke and the threat of flames forced the closure of state parks near Big Sur, a big economic driver for the region.

All California State Parks from Point Lobos State Natural Reserve through Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park are closed until further notice.

Tom and Donna Huntington, both 65, have lived for 29 years in the community of Palo Colorado, which was hard-hit by the fire. They fled their home last Friday and have been staying with friends and a Red Cross shelter at a school.

"It's a heartbreaker. I could cry right now," Tom Huntington said. "I'm so lucky I didn't lose my house. And I know some people that have."

Eric Beninger, a former firefighter who also lives in Palo Colorado, isn't sure his home is still standing.

"When I did leave yesterday I ended up seeing flames coming up my road," he said. "Just hope for the best, that's about all I can do."

Four people who escaped the fire early in the week acknowledged growing marijuana in the area for the last three months, Monterey County sheriff's Sgt. Kathy Palazzolo said.

Another man was killed last week in a wildfire still burning on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Crews have stopped the spread of the nearly 60-square-mile Sand Fire, which destroyed 18 homes in mountains and canyons around Santa Clarita.

Authorities have not determined a cause for either California fire.

Fire Tracker: Sand Fire in Los Angeles County