A group of eight men claiming to be "hikers," stranded in the remote terrain of western Monterey County by the seven-day-old Soberanes Fire, were rescued Tuesday by CalFire personnel and Monterey Country Sheriff’s deputies, likely saving their lives. Authorities are pretty sure, though, they weren't just hiking. As CBS 5 reports, a sheriff's department spokesperson said they "looked like illegal marijuana growers," despite one of the seven telling them they were just "backcountry hikers" and they weren't dressed like hikers either.
The Monterey Herald first reported on the missing men, and says that none were injured.
The area, much of it inaccessible by roads, has been known for years for illegal pot grows, and a separate group of four people walked out of the area earlier this week who acknowledged that they were growing marijuana.
The LA Times has it that there were only two people who became trapped by flames at a marijuana grow, and 900 of their marijuana plants went up in flames.
The Soberanes Fire broke out a week ago this morning in an area near Soberanes Creek in Garrapata State Park. It has now grown to over 31,000 acres, an area larger than the city of San Francisco. And while the origin point of the fire was well north of the world famous redwood groves of Big Sur, it has only spread south, and is now threatening a portion of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. So far 41 homes have been destroyed, and another 2,000 structures are threatened, and 350 people have been evacuated. The fire is only 15 percent contained, and full containment is not expected for weeks. Over 4,000 firefighting personnel are now working to contain it.
As the Chronicle reports, all state parks in the area are closed to camping and day use, though most of Big Sur's resorts remain open. According to Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, "The path of the fire is moving in a southeasterly direction, down and away from Big Sur and the general area of Monterey." The fire has indeed crossed into Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park but has stayed well to the east of Highway 1.
This week, the fire claimed its first life, that of Robert Reagan III, a bulldozer operator who had been called in to help battle the blaze. Per the LA Times, "At some point, he suffered fatal injuries in a remote area on the southeast end of the fire in Garrapata State Park in Carmel."
The time-lapse below shows the spread of the fire over the last week.