Bulldozer operator dies in Monterey County fire; 34 homes destroyed

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According to Cal Fire, one person has been killed in the Soberanes fire and 34 homes have been destroyed. Additional details on the fatality have not yet been released. Cal Fire tells KTVU the person who died was a bulldozer operator. 

Strike teams from the Bay Area are in Monterey County to control the fast-moving wildfire south of Carmel. The Soberanes fire is now a State of Emergency and has burned more than 27,326 acres. Officials say the fire is 10 percent contained, and 2,000 homes are threatened.

Hundreds of residents packed Carmel River Elementary School. Many of them were forced to leave their homes because of the out-of-control Soberanes wildfire.

"We've had smoke around our house," said Cynthia Fernandes of Carmel Valley. "Many friends and neighbors are impacted by this."

"This is a mean fire," said Jerry Forbes who has been evacuated. "I've seen several throughout the years. I've never seen them quite like this."

Cal Fire is making slow progress, still in the early stages of a fire that began Friday morning at Soberanes Creek in Garrapata State Park north of Big Sur. As many as 3,000 fire personnel are working the blaze. Four of them suffered minor injuries Tuesday, but were able to return to duty. 

Rough terrain, high winds and low humidity are factors making the fire fight difficult. Low visibility grounded aircraft  on Monday. Cal Fire is relying heavily on ground resources, using bulldozers to widen the roads that are hard to access.
"With this fire five years of drought, all of the mortality of the trees and of course the brush," said Cal Fire Captain Lucas Spelman. "You have to understand there's a lot of fuel out there that moves fast."

"I'm frustrated," said Forbes. "When I left, the flames were so high over me the ridge from me and I i could feel the heat."

Forbes said he saw flames 50 feet high. He and his wife evacuated their home they built 40 years ago. He said many of his neighbors lost their homes and he can't help but wonder what's left standing.

"It's not knowing," said Forbes. "Is it there? Is it not there? That's the tough part," said Forbes.

A temporary shelter has been set up at Carmel Middle School to assist evacuees. Cal Fire said it could take weeks for full containment. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.