BIG SUR, Monterey County (CBS / AP) — California crews contended with hotter temperatures and lower humidity Thursday near scenic Big Sur where a wildfire has destroyed 34 homes and killed a bulldozer driver working to contain the massive blaze.
More than 3,000 firefighters working around the clock got a break from cooler conditions a day earlier, but forecasters said the rest of the week would bring weather in the upper 80s.
Another 10 outbuildings were gutted by the blaze that has charred 42 square miles (108 sq. kilometers) of dry brush. The fire in Monterey County was just 10 percent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
Eight men who had been working on a marijuana field were rescued near the fire lines Tuesday after spending days wandering smoky trails with little water or food. No serious injuries were reported, sheriff’s spokesman John Thornburg told the Monterey Herald. Authorities initially said the men had been hiking in the area.
The operator of a bulldozer was killed when it rolled over during the firefight. Another operator escaped injury when a second bulldozer rolled over and sustained minor damage, according to Cal Fire.
Battalion Chief Robert Fish said the operator was working in steep and difficult-to-access terrain when the accident occurred Tuesday. Fish did not have further details about the incident or the operator but said 60 bulldozers were being used.
The death occurred as firefighters worked in rugged terrain near coastal 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.
At least 2,000 structures were threatened. The blaze could crest a ridge and make a run toward campgrounds, lodges and redwoods closer to the shore, officials said.
To the south, crews stopped the spread of a huge wildfire that destroyed 18 homes in mountains and canyons outside Los Angeles. The blaze that charred nearly 60 square miles (154 square kilometers) of dry brush near Santa Clarita was 65 percent contained Thursday, according to the fire command.
A stretch of the Metrolink commuter rail closed because of the fire was running again and some 20,000 people evacuated over the weekend returned home.
Firefighters were aided by light winds but contended with triple-digit temperatures.
California’s power grid operator extended a call for voluntary electricity conservation through Thursday due to hot weather throughout the state.
Authorities found the burned body of Robert Bresnick in a car on Saturday and said the 67-year-old had refused to be evacuated.
Acting Gov. Tom Torlakson, substituting for Gov. Jerry Brown who is at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, declared a state of emergency for both fires. The move frees up funding and relaxes regulations to help with the firefight and recovery.
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