Facing a stubborn fire, California officials ordered the evacuation of Big Sur on Wednesday as flames flared on nearby mountaintops and moved steadily toward this coastal retreat.
Firefighters have been attacking a fire near Big Sur for 11 days and had been helped in recent days by fog, moist conditions and lighter winds. Seventeen homes have been lost here -- more than half the total destroyed statewide from the first major wildfires of the season -- but many residents had been allowed to remain as the fire stayed to the east and south.
But overnight Tuesday the fire unexpectedly intensified, prompting mandatory evacuations of residents on both sides of Highway 1, the scenic coastal byway that runs through the Big Sur valley.
"It's tough to move out of your home; we understand that," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who visited the town with federal emergency officials on Wednesday, "but do it."
Yellow smoke and ash mixed in the air as a procession of possession-laden cars, trucks and vans streamed north out of town. Horses, goats, cats and dogs were also being trucked out by animal welfare workers, as helicopters ferried back and forth to the ocean, drawing out water to dump on smoldering hillsides east of town.
One of those evacuating was Erica Sanborn, 28, who was living with her husband and their dog in a hotel in Big Sur, having already been forced out of their home, farther south on the coast.