BIG SUR (CBS SF) — A bulldozer operator died in a rollover accident while battling a wildfire near Big Sur overnight as the blaze grew to more than 23,500 acres, according to CalFire Wednesday.
The bulldozer operator was working on the fire line overnight to clear some of the dense underbrush in Big Sur’s Palo Colorado community when something went horribly wrong.
“There was a rollover and the dozer operator was killed. And now there’s an investigation that’s going on,” said CalFire spokesperson Henry Herrera.
It was the first casualty of the massive wildfire that has scorched more than 23,000 acres along the central coast. The fire has destroyed 22 buildings and was threatening more than 2,000 other structures.
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The bulldozer operator was not a firefighter. Herrera said he was a contractor trained to operate heavy equipment even in the rugged and remote conditions where the wildfire’s currently burning.
“He worked for a private company and he was hired to do the same type of work that our firefighters do, said Herrera. They have the same type of training and credentials.”
CalFire says bulldozers are a versatile and powerful weapon in their arsenal.
They’re used to cut fire breaks in hopes either slowing the fire down or stopping it altogether.
“They’ll come in and remove all the vegetation — all the trees, the brush, everything, said Herrera. They’ll cut it down right to the bare earth.”
CalFire says there’s number of precautions in place designed to prevent an accident exactly like this. Crews measure how steep a hillside is to reduce the chance of a rollover, but why that failed remains a mystery.
CalFire said they will not released the name of the bulldozer operator until after they have notified his family.
Meanwhile, the Monterey Peninsula Herald was reporting that in another unrelated incident, a second bulldozer had rolled over in the rugged terrain and that operator suffered minor injuries.
The Soberanes Fire remains at only 10 percent contained as firefighters continue to aggressively attack the fast moving fire.
Cal Fire officials said the blaze had destroyed 20 homes and two outbuildings, while 2,000 structures remained threatened.
A group of hikers were extracted from the area Tuesday after hiking too close to the blaze. The hikers suffered no injuries, and were safely rescued due to collaborative efforts between the Monterey County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue and fire operations personnel.
Additionally, four firefighters were injured Tuesday morning with minor injures, and were treated and released to continue their work, Cal Fire officials said.
Multiple agencies are assisting Cal Fire in its suppression efforts by providing various resources including 14 helicopters, 296 engines, 60 dozers and six air tankers.
The extensive fire has led 300 residents to evacuate from the Palo Colorado community, Old Coast Road, Rocky Creek Road, Bixby Creek Road from state Highway 1 south to Mesa Road, Corona Road east of Highway 1 and Riley Ranch Road east of Highway 1.
The blaze began shortly after 8:45 a.m. Friday at Soberanes Creek in Garrapata State Park, north of Big Sur, and crews expect to reach full containment on Aug. 5.
Crews have prioritized extinguishing the fire in the Carmel Highlands area, which is closest to the fire and has the most threatened homes, Cal Fire operations section chief Mark Brown said during a news briefing at a base camp at Toro County Park in Salinas.
An evacuation center has been set up at Carmel Middle School.
People have been warned to leave southern parts of Carmel Highlands, the area south of Rancho San Carlos, White Rock and Old Coast Road south from Bixby Creek to Little Sur River, Cal Fire officials said.
A closure is in effect for Palo Colorado Road at Highway 1, Robinson Canyon Road south of Penon Peak Trail and Weston Ridge Road at Highway 1.
The fire has prompted the closure of Garrapata State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Point Lobos State National Reserve, Point Sur Lighthouse State Historic Park and the Pine Ridge and Mt. Manuel trails at Los Padres National Forest, state park officials said.
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