CARMEL, Calif., Aug. 2 (UPI) — An illegal and abandoned campfire is the likely cause of the massive Soberanes Fire north of Big Sur in Northern California, fire officials said.
Investigators are searching for the person or persons who lit, then left a 2-foot by 2-foot campfire off a main trail in Garrapata State Park that launched the wildfire that has scorched 44,300 acres and destroyed 57 homes.
Investigators believe the person or persons left the fire and soon left the trail, traveling into thick redwood forest, all just more than 2 miles from Highway 1, Cal Fire officials said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo said if a person is arrested, they could be charged with negligence and manslaughter for the death of 35-year-old bulldozer operator Robert Oliver Reagan III, killed fighting the fire last week.
The fire remains only 18 percent contained.
Most of the fire is burning in state park land or private property, and about 25 percent is burning in Los Padres National Forest, Cal Fire spokesman Bennet Milloy said.
Cal Fire said the blaze might take another month to fully extinguish. In the time, officials estimate, it could burn up to 165,000 acres.
As winds blow the fire away from homes on the coast, it drives it deeper into remote areas of Los Padres National Forest.
More than 5,000 firefighters are battling the blaze.