SAN FRANCISCO – Fire crews started a controlled burn in the Los Padres National Forest in hopes of halting the massive blaze's spread through the ravaged hills of the central California coast.
A mandatory evacuation Tuesday morning emptied the cabins and summer homes that dot the heavily wooded ridges in anticipation of the burn, which is meant to clear away flammable brush between the wildfire and threatened buildings.
The lightning-sparked blaze has consumed 190 square miles of federal land and destroyed 27 homes along the storied Big Sur coast before spreading inland. The fire, which has burned for more than three weeks, is 61 percent contained, said Kathy Hilliker, spokeswoman for Monterey County Emergency Services.
About 20 houses were included in the new round of evacuations, but most of them are uninhabited summer cabins, said Ruby Urueta, spokeswoman with the Monterey County Emergency Operations Center.
"People will see smoke, but it'll be a controlled operation," said Urueta. About 200 homes already have been evacuated in the rural Cachagua community because of the fire danger.
About 2,010 separate blazes have burned statewide since a massive lightning storm struck on June 21, ravaging nearly 1,400 square miles, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The updated number of fires reflects more accurate information obtained as crews make progress on the ground.
"Progress is really being made — we've really turned a corner," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "But we have to remember this is just July, and our biggest fires are historically in September and October. We really have to, as a state, not become complacent yet."
South of the Los Padres, where fires were followed by heavy rain and flooding, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Inyo County, the twelfth California county to receive that designation because of the current wildfire outbreak.
To help fund the firefighting effort, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Governor's Office of Emergency Services approved on Tuesday the release of $41.5 million public assistance money to the California fire agency.
The funds will cover the cost of state firefighting overtime, equipment and materials as well expenses borne by local fire agencies.
Kelly Huston, spokesman for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said Monday that the wildfires since June 21 are "the largest single fire event in history for California."
The complex of fires in Butte County, which has consumed 84 square miles and destroyed dozens of homes, is 75 percent contained.
At least one person was found dead after the blaze swept through the rural community of Concow. After completing an autopsy, the county coroner said Tuesday that he likely won't be able to determine a cause of death because the body was so badly burned.