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Illegal Campfire Sparked Massive Big Sur Wildfire

MONTEREY COUNTY (CBS SF) – Cal Fire officials announced Tuesday afternoon that an illegal campfire has been determined to be the cause of the massive Soberanes Fire in Monterey County.

The campfire was reported by two hikers just as the fire broke out on July 22. The hikers needed to move to a place where there was cellphone reception to report the fire, so the precise location of the abandoned campfire hadn't been determined.

The fire near Big Sur began around 8:45 a.m. on July 22 at Soberanes Creek in Garrapata State Park, Cal Fire officials said.

No arrests have been made in connection with the fire being started, according to Cal Fire. Authorities are continuing to investigate the fire in the hopes of identifying suspects.

Cal Fire investigators are asking anyone who was in the area of Garrapata State Park that morning and might have seen something to call (800) 468-4408.


The wildfire remains 18 percent contained as of this morning, Cal Fire officials said.

The Soberanes Fire slightly increased overnight to 43,400 acres through rugged terrain that has been difficult for the 5,451 firefighters working to extinguish the blaze.

Investigators estimate the fire will be 100 percent contained at the end of the month.

PG&E crews have begun repairing power lines and poles that were damaged in the fire, starting in Carmel-by-the Sea, utility officials said.

Six outages have been reported since the fire broke and flames continue to threaten equipment and facilities in the area, according to PG&E.

Crews will continue to work to return service and rebuild infrastructure as safely and as quickly as possible, PG&E officials said.

Smoke is expected to clear this afternoon in many cities north of the fire, including Gilroy, Santa Cruz and Salinas, according to Cal Fire.

Heavy smoke among the coast is forecasted to head east Tuesday and air quality is estimated to improve on Wednesday, agency officials said.

The fire claimed the life of 35-year-old Fresno County resident Robert Oliver Reagan III, a private contractor who was operating a bulldozer that rolled over last week, according to Cal Fire.

Teams have been assigned to investigate the circumstances surrounding Reagan's death and what started the fire. The blaze has also destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings in addition to damaging three structures and two outbuildings, Cal Fire officials said.

Inspectors are assessing how much damage was left behind with help from the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services, according to Cal Fire.

Roughly 350 residents have been evacuated in areas including the Palo Colorado community, Old Coast Road and Tassajara Road.

On July 26, a state of emergency was issued for Monterey County because of the widespread fire.

Evacuees can receive assistance at a center set up at All Saints' Day School located at 8060 Carmel Valley Road in Carmel-by-the Sea, according to Cal Fire.

People have been allowed to return to the areas of Carmel Highlands, Santa Lucia Preserve, Riley Ranch Road, Red Wolf Drive and Corona Road, Cal Fire officials said.

Many people have been warned of possible evacuations as the fire threatens 2,000 structures. Closures remain in place along multiple roads, state parks and trails at Los Padres National Forest within the impacted area, Cal Fire officials said.

On July 25, crews came across two hikers who jumped out from a bush and sought assistance in escaping the fire area, Monterey County sheriff's spokeswoman Jo Anna Butron said.

The pair admitted they were cultivating 900 marijuana plants that had burned in the fire, but weren't arrested or cited because of a lack of evidence, Butron said.

The following morning, the sheriff's search and rescue team assisted six hikers in the Bouchers Gap area who called 911 for help after they heard fire equipment and helicopters nearby, according to Butron.

The group of six was dehydrated and without food or water. They originally began the trip three days earlier with eight people and weren't sure what happened to two people who went missing, Butron said.

The six hikers were picked up by a helicopter crew and dropped off at Bixby Bridge, according to Butron.

It's not clear if the two hikers who confessed to the marijuana grow were part of the larger group that was rescued, she said.

On Thursday, firefighters came across two duffel bags filled with marijuana that was turned over to the sheriff's office, but investigators don't know where it was found or whom it belongs to, Butron said.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for Monterey County has taken in 100 pets at its Salinas shelter, nonprofit officials said.

Donations to those affected by the fire can be made at the Big Sur State Park Multi-Agency Building at 47555 Highway 1 in Bug Sur, over the phone at (831) 667-3173 or by email at

Contributions can also be made to the Community Foundation for Monterey County, which is forming grants to help nonprofit groups and organizations provide services such as temporary housing assistance or health services for anyone impacted by the fire. More information on the fund can be found online.

TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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