Nightly News   |  December 17, 2013

Big Sur flames engulf fire chief’s home

Offshore winds brought the blaze to fire chief Martha Karsten’s home – but there’s no time to grieve as the fire continues to spread. NBC’s Katy Tur reports.

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>>> in this country, one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in california is burning. a wildfire broke out yesterday in big sur , california . and among the many buildings destroyed, the home of the woman in charge of saving other people's property. nbc's katy tur is there for us this evening, katy , good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. we're here in big sur on the famous highway 1 where ash has been raining down all day long. the ocean is three miles that way, and up here on the ridge is where the fire is. you can see the heavy smoke. you can even see pockets of flames between the trees, only 30 feet from us. 30 to 40 homes are being threatened right now. 15 already destroyed, including the fire chief 's. in a state famous for its wildfires, big sur is infamous. where the ocean meets the sea, it's some of california 's most rugged and difficult-to-protect terrain, and when offshore winds drove the blaze to the doorstep of fire chief martha carston's home she knew it was too late.

>> when i walked out the front door the embers and ashes were pretty much coming by my front door. it was just too much fire too fast, and we couldn't save the house. we tried. everybody tried really hard.

>> reporter: now, this is all that's left.

>> i guess i'm mentally prepared to deal with what i have left which is pretty much nothing.

>> reporter: her home was the first to go on pfeiffer ridge road where 15 of her neighbors also lost their homes.

>> his property.

>> reporter: carston worked through the night coordinating the fire fighting by radio and with the organization.

>> to stand there and watch your home burn, it's not what you want to do.

>> reporter: she captured the chaos on her cell phone. today more than 600 fire fighters are battling the blaze against deep odds. dry bush, thick smoke and bad air are problems for miles. fabian perez's family also lost his home.

>> it was horrible. it looked like daytime. looked like a volcano just exploded, raining, just raining fire. everywhere you looked fire was everywhere.

>> reporter: 2013 is now california 's driest season on record.

>> all the chaos because no one expects a fire in december, and no one was ready for it.

>> reporter: fire chief carston didn't expect to be consoling her neighbors.

>> we want to protect what we have here. they just do the best we can, and when something like that happens, we're all devastated

>> reporter: leader of the volunteer department continues to fight the fire just as her personal loss begins to sink in. brian, as you know, it is not fire season. it's just been so warm and so dry out here. in fact, if you drive up and down the coast, you notice that all of the hillsides, all of the brush is brown. that's because it hasn't rained here, and that's why this is just so dangerous.

>> katy tur, big sur , california tonight. katy , thanks.