Big Sur fire triggers memories for many who've been there

BIG SUR, Calif. — As fires rip up and down mountain ridges hemming this coastal village, there is a love story playing out here.

Inside Nepenthe, the cliff-top restaurant that practically anchors Big Sur, concerned callers from all over the country jingle the phone that echoes in the empty dining room. Is the place OK? It wouldn't be the same without it, callers say. What about the reservations for a group of car enthusiasts in September?

"We were having our best year ever up until June 20," when lightning sparked wildfires southeast of Big Sur and shut down California's sceneic coastal Highway 1, said Kirk Gafill. His grandparents built Nepenthe 60 years ago, a treehouse overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

This coastal hamlet is a destination for honeymooners and others celebrating big. For generations, visitors have been awed by the sienna-hued cliffs, quaint bridges and lush hiking trails.

Now they're e-mailing and calling from as far as Scotland about a place they cherish. They needn't worry: More than 90,000 acres have burned on California's Central Coast since June 2, but most of the burned ground is hidden in deep canyons and over remote ridges — invisible from Highway 1.

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