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Big Sur blaze proves California wildfire season is year-round

The unusual January wildfire in Big Sur crept downslope toward Bixby Canyon Bridge, one of the most iconic — and photographed — places on California's famed coastline.

(CN) — Evacuations remained in place Monday for a relatively populous part of Big Sur threatened by an out of control wildfire that has so far scorched 700 acres.

Containment on the Colorado Fire grew over the weekend, with about 35% of the blaze surrounded according to Cal Fire.

“Winds continue to create challenges for crews along the fire perimeter,” Cal Fire said in status updated early Monday morning. 

The fire broke out Friday as gusty winds pummeled much of California and wreaked havoc with communities in the Monterey County portion of the iconic Big Sur, an area renowned for picturesque scenery and the Coastal Range plunging precipitously into the Pacific Ocean where the waves collide wildly with the rocky outcroppings dotting the shoreline.

The fire burned down to the Bixby Canyon Bridge, the most photographed bridge in California due to its aesthetic architecture and inspiring location about 13 miles south of Carmel. 

California has been beset by wildfires in recent years as changing weather patterns, rising temperatures and prolonged drought have combined with years of forest mismanagement to create conditions ideal for large high-severity fires. 

But it is extremely unusual for evacuations due to wildfire to be called for in January, a time when firefighters can typically set aside their equipment and rest up for a fire season that typically doesn’t gear up until May at the earliest. 

“Everybody says that California has a year-round fire season,” said Cal Fire Capt. George Nuñez. “And this is just part of it.”

Highway 1 remains closed from Garrapata Creek to Point Sur, meaning most of the iconic stretch of one of the world’s most spectacular highways remains inaccessible. 

The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office said mandatory evacuations remain in place for residents of Palo Colorado Road and some of the surrounding territory. 

The fire started in a steep canyon and spread rapidly due to high wind events that struck Northern California on Friday. 

So far, only one structure has been deemed lost due to the fire. 

The National Weather Service said the drought in California means even heavy precipitation events like the two gully-washing storms that hit California in October and December are insufficient to allay the persistent dryness in the forests.

Much of California remains in drought, according to the most recent update by the U.S. Drought Monitor.  

Wind events like the one that spurred the Colorado Fire typically don't occur in Northern California until spring, although a resilient ridge of high pressure has made it feel more like spring than winter in much of the region. The Santa Ana winds in Southern California do occur in winter, however, and have been responsible for destructive blazes including the Thomas Fire that burned about 200,000 acres in December 2017.

Meteorologists do not see rain in the the immediate forecast for Big Sur, leaving firefighters to battle the blaze without the help of Mother Nature.

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