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Clear Skies, Calm Winds Help Firefighters Strengthen Containment Of Big Sur Wildfire; 'Drought Is Acting Like A Chronic Illness'

CARMEL (CBS SF) -- Firefighters battling a rare winter wildfire in the coastal mountains north of Big Sur continued to gain containment Monday, but a stretch of Highway 1 remained closed and evacuation orders were still in place for residents forced from their homes over the weekend.

Cal Fire downgraded the acreage charred by the blaze to just 700 acres late Sunday night with containment growing to 35%, but that has likely grown under favorable weather conditions. More than 200 firefighters with air support were on the fire lines near the famed Bixby Bridge.

On Monday morning, the National Weather Service said the heat signature from the flames had all but disappeared from their radar.

"Compared to the last 48 hours, the heat signature on the Colorado Fire is much weaker and almost non-existent though the last few scans have shown some signatures likely due to interior fuels burning out," weather service forecasters said. "Conditions continue to look favorable for mop-up on the fire through the forecast remains dry this week."

On Sunday, the Monterey County Health Department advised local residents who had not been evacuated to boil their tap water and/or use bottled water for drinking and cooking due to potential damage to the water system infrastructure by the fire.

An evacuation shelter that was established at Carmel Middle School was scheduled to close on Monday morning. County officials reported that only a handful of people used the emergency facility.

Named the Colorado Fire for its starting point in Palo Colorado Canyon, the blaze triggered evacuation orders for about 500 people in the lightly populated area.

Winds topping 65 mph roared through Northern California on Friday night, spreading the flames with caught firefighters by surprise.

"The fire lined up with the wind and the terrain and that gave the fire a lot of energy to make a big run," said Cecile Juliette, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

It was unclear what caused the fire, but officials said it was just another reminder that California's fire season now stretching year-round.

The National Weather Service said while Monterey County had a good amount of rain from late October to December and the severe drought conditions have eased, there was no measurable rain in January.

"Pictures on social media suggest some pretty surreal fire behavior given the wet Oct and Dec that was observed across the region with multiple atmospheric river events," weather service forecasters said. "Anecdotally, it seems as though the long-term drought is acting like a chronic illness where even recent rains and cold winter weather isn`t helping to keep fires from developing."

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