A wildfire burning in the Big Sur area of California has chewed through 500 acres and destroyed at least 15 homes — including the home of the volunteer fire chief.
"It still has not sunk in," Big Sur Fire Chief Martha Karsten told NBC station KSBW. "I just haven't absorbed it all yet.
"I walked out the door to go to what I thought was a fire somewhere else, and there was ashes and sparks going right by my front door."
Karsten said she stayed to fight the blaze, hooking up hoses while trying to coordinate firefighting efforts elsewhere.
"I finally got some people there, and everybody tried really hard. It was too much fire too fast, and we couldn't save the house," she said.
The region, along the state's central Pacific coast, is sparsely populated and thick with vegetation parched by one of the driest years in California history.
The fire had burned about 550 acres in the Pfeiffer Ridge area of Los Padres National Forest near state Highway 1, with 5 percent containment Tuesday, fire officials said.
"This is a completely wind-driven fire," Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen said. "We're cautiously optimistic that we're going to pin this thing down within the next couple of days."
Residences were scattered in the path of the fire that was being battled by about 400 firefighters. Officials also brought in air tankers and helicopters.
"Houses burned to the ground. Cars completely burned," Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller told KSBW. "Out buildings. Trees. Just really a devastated landscape up there."
The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Resident Fabian Perez described the devastation.
"It was horrible. It looked like a volcano just exploded. It was just raining fire. Everywhere you looked, fire was landing," he told KSBW.
"Me and my dad turned on all the hoses trying to get all the hotspots, trying to save what we could. We tried our best, but it was not enough."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Big Sur wildfire leads to evacuations
Nic Coury / AP
Fire crews work to contain the fire atop Pfeiffer Ridge on Monday in Big Sur, Calif.
First published December 17 2013, 7:16 AM