PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF., JUNE 1 -- A campfire out of control was blamed for a wind-fanned blaze that hopped from roof to roof, burning 37 homes, causing $16 million in damage and forcing more than 200 people to flee.
"It's awful," said Tom Oliver, president of Pebble Beach Co., which owns roads and other facilities in the area. Surveying the charred landscape under a smoky, orange-tinted sky, he added: "Last night it looked like Dante's 'Inferno.' "
The flames quickly hopscotched through homes in about 140 acres of brush and woods. Nine people, including eight firefighters, suffered minor injuries.
The fire was fully contained and 75 percent controlled at 6 p.m. today, said Forestry Department spokesman Bill Bruno. Residents were expected to be allowed back late tonight.
The first wisps of smoke were spotted mid-Sunday near 17-Mile Drive, a private road that attracts about 1.5 million tourists a year for a look at the houses, the craggy Pacific coastline and several famous golf courses.
Mark Verbonich, vice president for property services at Pebble Beach Co., estimated damage to the 56 houses at $30 million. The houses destroyed were worth an average of $500,000, with some as expensive as $800,000.
"I'm sure it will be rehabilitated, reseeded and brought back," he said. "I'm sure the houses will be rebuilt."
At the home of John Panetta, brother of Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.), an open safe in a pile of ashes was all that remained.
Two hundred people fled to a Red Cross emergency center in a nearby college gymnasium. Others were housed without charge at motels or stayed with friends or relatives.