Big Sur wildfire eats up 15 homes, including fire chief's

BIG SUR, Calif. -- A wildfire burning Monday in the Big Sur area of California destroyed at least 15 homes and forced about 100 people to evacuate as it chewed through dry vegetation on its way toward the ocean. No injuries were reported. 

The fire burned about 500 acres in the Pfeiffer Ridge area of Los Padres National Forest near state Highway 1, with 0 percent containment, Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen said. 

Madsen said the fire destroyed the home of Big Sur Fire Chief Martha Karstens. 

"She left thinking that she was going to go protect other people's homes," Madsen said, "and it turns out that her own home has been consumed."

"I just haven't absorbed it all yet," Karstens told reporters from CBS Monterey, Calif. affiliate KION-TV and other outlets.

She says the part of Big Sur being hit hasn't burned in over 100 years. "Iit'll be one of those big fires when it happens and we hoped not in our lifetime, but here it is," she said, choking back tears.

Officials were hopeful that they could contain the blaze this week. 

"This is a completely wind-driven fire," Madsen said. "We're cautiously optimistic that we're going to pin this thing down within the next couple of days." 

The Red Cross has set up an overnight shelter for people who have been displaced by the fire, Madsen said. 

Big Sur is a popular tourist destination along the Central California coast with high-end resorts and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. 

Residences were scattered in the path of the fire that was being battled by 625 firefighters. Officials also brought in air tankers and helicopters. 

Highway 1 is open but traffic is heavier due to the presence of emergency vehicles, Madsen said. Evacuations of the area remained in effect as of 10:30 p.m. Monday. 

The cause of the fire was under investigation. 

A wildfire so late in the year is unusual but not surprising given that California is in the midst of the driest calendar year on record. 

A lightning-sparked wildfire in 2008 forced the evacuation of Big Sur and blackened 250 square miles before it was contained. That blaze burned more than a dozen homes.