California wildfire forces closure of scenic Highway 1

By Dan Whitcomb LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An epic wildfire that has killed one person and blackened about 60,000 acres along the California coast, forced authorities on Monday to shut down a portion of scenic Highway 1 near Carmel-by-the-Sea. The closure of the highway, which runs along much of the Pacific coastline and is famed for its dramatic ocean views, was prompted by an increase in fire and wind activity in the Big Sur area, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. The road was expected to be closed to traffic in both directions from 10 p.m. Pacific time on Monday (0500 GMT Tuesday) until at least 6 p.m. on Tuesday (0100 GMT Wednesday), depending on conditions, the department said. The so-called Soberanes Fire, which has destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings, has been burning since July 22. A bulldozer operator died on July 26 when his tractor rolled over as he helped property owners battle the blaze, becoming the sixth wildfire fatality in California this year. Authorities have traced origins of the blaze to an illegal campfire left unattended in a state park about a mile from Highway 1. No arrests have so far been made. As of Monday, the more than 5,000 firefighters battling the flames had cut containment lines around 45 percent of its perimeter. Firefighters are making gradual but steady progress against the blaze as wildfire season in the western United States reaches its traditional peak, intensified by prolonged drought and extreme summer heat across the region. The conflagration near Big Sur is one of 35 major wildfires that have charred half a million acres in 12 states, mostly in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. A blaze that erupted on Sunday in San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, had scorched some 4,500 acres of dry timber and brush within 24 hours and was only about 5 percent contained, officials said. That fire, called the Pilot Fire, had not destroyed any homes as of Monday afternoon but residents of about 25 homes along two major highways were ordered to evacuate. (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Grant McCool)