A wildfire ravaged the hillsides above the scenic coastal community of Big Sur, California on Thursday, leaving the popular tourist region mostly deserted ahead of the US Independence Day holiday weekend.
Still, some people defied orders to evacuate the area and stayed behind to try to save their homes and businesses from the blaze, which has burned 100 square miles (259 square kilometres) of the Los Padres National Forest and destroyed at least 17 homes.
The blaze was one of more than 1,700 wildfires, mostly ignited by lightning, that have scorched nearly 800 square miles (2,072 square kilometres) and destroyed more than 60 structures across northern and central California since June 20, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The air near Big Sur was thick with smoke and ash, and flames licked the forested hills above the coastal highway.
The blaze was only about three percent contained and wasn't expected to be fully surrounded until the end of the month.
"This is a significant one and it will be stubborn as far as controlling it," Greg DeNitto, the region's fire information officer told AP Television.
"No one here is anticipating it being controlled anytime in the near future," he said of the wildfire.
The National Weather Service on Thursday warned of high fire danger in the Big Sur area because of dry and windy conditions.
A state-wide drought has created tinder-like trees and brush, feeding the flames in California's forests.
Authorities have ordered evacuations for homes and businesses along a 25-mile (40-kilometre) stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, but many property owners chose to remain in the fire zone at their own risk.
Despite the evacuation orders, fire and law enforcement officials cannot force people to leave their property, said a California Fire spokeswoman.
If someone refuses to leave, the person must sign a waiver that asks for next of kin and the name of a dentist, so the individual can be identified by dental records in case of death, the spokeswoman said.
More than 30 miles (48 kilometres) of the Pacific Coast Highway have been closed.
About 1,200 homes are threatened on a long strip of coast in the Los Padres forest, said a Forest Service spokesman.
A separate blaze that started about a month ago and covered more than 120 square miles (310 square kilometres) was nearly fully contained on Thursday in the Los Padres forest southeast of Big Sur.
Meanwhile, a fast-growing fire in the southern extension of the Los Padres forest north of Santa Barbara forced about 45 residents to evacuate as strong winds pushed flames toward homes in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County to free up resources to fight the blaze, which has burned more than 2,400 acres (971-hectares) and threatened about 200 buildings.
In the Sequoia National Forest east of Bakersfield, crews struggled to contain a 14-thousand -acre (5,665-hectare) blaze.
Powerful gusts and choking smoke travelling up the steep canyons hampered their progress, and residents of neighbouring towns were ordered to evacuate.