Environment & Science

Soberanes Fire caused by abandoned campfire; Wildfires continue to burn across California

A firefighter from the Palo Alto and Santa Clarita County strike team works on the Soberanes Fire on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.
A firefighter from the Palo Alto and Santa Clarita County strike team works on the Soberanes Fire on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.
Palo Alto Fire Department via Twitter

The cause of the Soberanes Fire, which started July 22, was an abandoned campfire, according to Cal Fire officials.

Cal Fire tweet

Investigators spent over 150 hours examining the scene and investigating witnesses before determining that the cause was an illegal, unattended campfire, Cal Fire Unit Chief Brennan Blue said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. The campfire was located up Soberanes Creek Trail, a common trail, but the location of the fire wasn't part of the sanctioned trail system, according to a Cal Fire investigator.

The campfire was in an area approximately 2 feet by 2 feet, the investigator said at the press conference. It was described as a "comfortably-sized" campfire.

The area where the campfire was located was a closed area of the park, not a sanctioned trail or a campsite, a National Parks representative said at the press conference. Neither camping nor fires are allowed in the park.

Hikers gave authorities the general location of where the fire was located. The hikers had to move to higher ground in order to get a cell signal.

Whoever started the campfire could face criminal charges, possibly for negligence as opposed to intentional arson, Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo said at the press conference. A bulldozer driver was killed in the fire, and they could be found negligent for that death. They could also be liable for structural damage caused by the fire.

"I would encourage anybody who was in the area at the time of the fire to do the right thing and come forward with any information that they might have," Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal said.

Authorities are asking anyone with information about the cause of the fire to call 1-800-468-4408.

"We understand the devastation and hardship this incident has caused," said Cal Fire public information officer for the fire Jonathan Cox said.

Higher humidity and lower temperatures on Monday helped firefighters battle the destructive wildfire that has scorched more than 63 square miles near the scenic Big Sur coast, while firefighters in Central California faced blistering heat as they worked to contain a blaze that burned rural homes and forced hundreds of evacuations near the small Fresno County town of Prather.

A layer of ocean air that arrived in the mountainous Big Sur region was credited for the better conditions in an area where the Soberanes Fire has destroyed 57 homes and is threatening 2,000 more structures. A bulldozer operator working for the firefighting operation died in an accident last week. That fire is 18 percent contained.

Fire Tracker: Soberanes Fire in Monterey County

The blaze near Prather, known as the Goose Fire, has damaged three homes just outside the Sierra National Forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. About 300 people are under evacuation orders.

That fire started Saturday and by Monday had grown to over 3 square miles with just 20 percent of it surrounded by firefighters.

Just north of Los Angeles, the 65-square-mile Sand Fire was almost fully contained, and only active with isolated pockets of vegetation burning within a fire lines. A man who refused to evacuate from a home was killed and the fire also prompted the evacuation of about 20,000 people.

This story has been updated.