California forest fire moving closer to Big Sur

Hundreds of firefighters worked Thursday to protect the scenic community of Big Sur from a lightning-sparked wildfire that inched closer to historic structures after burning 16 homes and threatening another 500 houses.

The blaze in the Los Padres National Forest was only 3 percent contained and had burned nearly 37 square miles near the coast about a mile south of Big Sur, officials said.

A popular tourist spot along the towering cliffs of the central California coast, Big Sur is also a storied destination for generations of American writers.

A library named after “Tropic of Cancer” author Henry Miller, who spent the last years of his life at Big Sur, was directly threatened by the fire, but so far firefighters had beaten back the flames, fire spokesman Curtis Vincent said.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service predicted more dry lightning toward the end of the week, although forecasters did not expect as severe an electrical storm as occurred last weekend, when nearly 8,000 lightning strikes sparked about 800 fires across Northern California.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Monterey County to assess the damage and said he has called in the National Guard to help fight the fires.

“The fact is that when you have that many fires – and there are still 700 fires left all over the state of California – you get stretched thin with the resources,” Schwarzenegger said.

The state's largest fire, located about 20 miles east of the Big Sur fire in a more remote area of Los Padres forest, also continued to vex firefighters, having scorched more than 92 square miles and destroyed two homes. The blaze, sparked by a campfire June 8, was about 71 percent contained.

Monterey County sheriff's officials said mandatory evacuation orders were in place for both fires, but could not specify how many people were forced from their homes.

The governor also visited Butte County, where 27 lightning-sparked fires covering about 8 square miles were threatening 1,000 homes. The blazes, which were only 5 percent contained, cropped up just as the county was recovering from a fire that charred 74 homes and 36 square miles earlier this month.

Fire crews from Nevada and Oregon have arrived to help California firefighters battle hundreds of blazes that are darkening skies over the San Francisco Bay area and Central Valley, causing public health officials to issue air-quality warnings.

Areas hit the hardest by the lightning storm also included Mendocino County, where 106 fires have burned more than 33 square miles and threatened about 500 homes, and the Shasta-Trinity Forest, where more than 150 fires have burned nearly 19 square miles and threatened 200 homes.

In central New Mexico, meanwhile, Torrance County sheriff's deputies on Thursday urged people to evacuate an area northeast of where a forest fire in the Manzano Mountains has already led to the voluntary evacuations of about 350 people. Forest officials could not immediately say how many people were included in the latest voluntary evacuation.

The fire had charred at least 3,000 acres by Thursday morning, said Vicki Fox, a fire information officer.