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A Big Sur blaze caps the driest year on record 

As 2014 approached with little to no sign of rain, weather watchers prepared to declare 2013 California’s driest year on record. Just before that became official, a wildfire tore through Big Sur, destroying 34 homes.

What’s being called the Pfeiffer Fire ignited around midnight on Dec. 15 and burned for five days before being contained. Andrew Madsen, spokesperson for the Los Padres National Forest office, said 917 total acres burned, the majority of which were privately owned. The fire started in the Los Padres National Forest, and as of press time the cause hadn’t been determined.

Fires aren’t uncommon in Big Sur—where steep terrain and limited road access make firefighting a challenge—but most burn east of Highway 1 in sparsely inhabited lands. The Pfeiffer Fire, however, burned entirely west of Highway 1, in the area smattered with homes between the road and the ocean. Dry conditions and warm winds didn’t help. Along some ridgelines, where the fire was able to quickly climb steep grades, the heat was so intense that windows melted and walls exploded, he said. Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade Chief Martha Karsten’s home was among the 34 lost. Regardless, Karsten kept on the job.

“Obviously that was a huge weight on her shoulders. We were all impressed with her leadership skills,” Madsen said. “She didn’t go home to deal with her own loss; she was right back out leading the team.”

For San Luis Obispo County, 2013 is the driest year since records began in 1870. Multiple federal agencies have classified all of SLO County, and most of Monterey County, Santa Barbara County, and the Central Valley, to be in “extreme drought.”

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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