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Wildfire in California's Big Sur region destroys 22 structures

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 1:29 PM EST, Wed December 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A wildfire in Big Sur is brought under 20% control, up from 5% the day before
  • Firefighters report "good progress" in their efforts to put out the 769-acre blaze
  • The fire chief's home is among the 22 structures destroyed

(CNN) -- A California wildfire grew modestly to 769 acres and destroyed 22 structures, including the fire chief's home, in the pristine coastal mountain region known as Big Sur, authorities said Wednesday.

The 879 personnel fighting the fire reported "good progress" in bringing the blaze under 20% control, up from 5% the day before, authorities said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Fire Chief Martha Karstens of the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade lost her home in the fire, which began Monday.

"The irony doesn't escape me," she told CNN. "I try to set an example for fire clearance. And we do the best we can. But it's -- the situation was just -- it was too much, too hot, too fast, too soon.

"If I had had other resources, perhaps my home would still be there," she added.

The loss marked a turnabout in her job, in which she deals with fire damage to other people's homes.

"Until it happens to you, you feel sorry for them. But literally, I went out to fight a fire. I had my purse. I had my cell phone and my glasses. And I didn't know I was going to be trying to save my own home," she said.

Several neighborhoods were evacuated, and their roads remained closed Wednesday, but the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, or California Highway 1, was open, officials said.

"Crews made good progress containing fire perimeter along the south end, ahead of an anticipated trough approaching the west coast," Los Padres National Forest officials said in a prepared statement.

That weather trough was expected to bring strong winds late Wednesday.

Almost all of California is in a severe or extreme drought, and the Big Sur area is listed as being in a severe drought, the National Drought Mitigation Center website says.

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