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Mid Coast Fire: Two day old permitted burn ignited Colorado Fire in Big Sur

BIG SUR, Calif. (KION) A two day old permitted pile burn that got out of control is what the Mid Coast Fire Brigade says ignited the Colorado Fire Friday night in Big Sur.

"This pile was two days old, so two days prior to this weather event, they had called and they had completed the burn. At that time, the pile was extinguished, and then the winds came up. We had 50 to 60 mile an hour gusts up on the hill," said Chief Cheryl Goetz with Mid Coast Fire.

Chief Goetz says the department issues burn permits that last three years. Once Cal Fire gives the OK for burn season to start, homeowners are responsible for calling up their nearest fire department and notifying them that they plan on doing a burn. They also must make sure that it is a safe burn day.

"We've changed our message, so no burning right now because we're anticipating the winds coming up and really dry conditions over the next week. So we want to make sure that they call us and find out," said Goetz.

She says that although the Big Sur area got around 14 inches of rain last month, the weather is changing — they used to receive 40 to 60 inches. Goetz says there also hasn't been a recorded wildfire in the area since the 1940s, the perfect mixture for dry, fire prone vegetation.

"We had some really nice rains in November and December. So everything looks green, but it has not been enough to soak into the Earth and provide that critical moisture to the bigger fuels, such as the chaparral and the larger trees. So they're still at critically dry fuel moistures for the size fuel they are," said Chief Matt Harris with Big Sur Fire.

Chief Harris also made the decision to suspend burning in his district after the Colorado Fire started.

"I have elected to suspend burning in Big Sur, mainly because of the behavior of the Colorado Fire, and that the highway was closed. Now that it's open, we could get resources down there if we were to have a fire now, but it would have been difficult," said Harris. "We really need to get some more rain, and I'm monitoring it every day and talking with my staff and we are also communicating with Cal Fire, and we'll make a collective decision."

But Goetz says cutting down vegetation and burning it is the only way for homeowners who live high up in the mountains to create defensible space. Hauling truckload after truckload of vegetation over an hour away down one-lane, windy roads is the only other option.

She just hopes they continue to do these backyard burns safely.

"Using copious amounts of water, using a shovel, turning the ash and using their senses. Use the back of your hand and get down close to the edge. Do you feel any heat? Do you sense any heat?" said Harris.

Harris says homeowners should also check with the Monterey Bay Air Resources District on whether it is a permitted burn day.

You can read more on how to apply for a burn permit and what is required with the Mid Coast Fire Brigade and Big Sur Fire here.

Cal Fire says they are still investigating how this fire started and if anyone will be held responsible.

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Lisa Principi

Lisa Principi is a reporter at KION News Channel 5/46.

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