BIG SUR, Calif. — Piles of charred rubble smoldered near California's scenic coastal highway Thursday as a ferocious wildfire descended on the storied tourist town of Big Sur, destroying vacation homes and sending forest creatures running toward the sea for cover.
The stubborn blaze, which has burned more than 100 square miles in the Los Padres National Forest, was one of hundreds raging around the state. Officials on Thursday reported California's first firefighter death this year, a volunteer who collapsed on the fire line in Mendocino County.
So much forest has burned near Big Sur that animals have been forced out of their habitat and onto the roads. Buzzards flew overhead to snatch up dead rodents and squirrels, and residents reported seeing bear, deer and other big animals migrating toward the Pacific Ocean.
Crews near the Pacific Coast Highway fought back flames from homes and historic landmarks, including the upscale Ventana Inn, which was surrounded by crackling, burning brush.
Several homes perched on a ridge about a quarter-mile from the cliffside inn fell victim to the fire the night before.
At least 20 homes have been destroyed in the area since the blaze broke out June 21, up from 17 counted Wednesday. The fire was only 5 percent contained by Thursday evening.
Many residents followed mandatory evacuation orders issued this week, but some chose to defy the orders, staying behind to try to save their homes and businesses.