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SAN FRANCISCO, June 26 (Reuters) - California officials closed a stretch of the state's scenic coastal highway around historic Big Sur on Thursday as a wildfire threatened 500 homes in the remote area known for its contemplative retreats.
Firefighters have been battling hundreds of blazes across California sparked by lightning strikes over the past weekend, including two that merged into the single fire around Big Sur, an artists' haven that was once home to writer Henry Miller.
The Big Sur fire has burned more than 23,500 acres (9,510 hectares) and destroyed 16 homes and two other buildings.
Big Sur, on California's central coast, is heavily wooded, with steep slopes running down to the Pacific Ocean. The terrain creates one of California's most dramatic landscapes -- and slow going for almost 700 firefighters on the scene.
They must also contend with winds spreading the blaze, which is only 3 percent contained, said Mary Welna, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire, the state's firefighting department.
California fire officials are bracing for a busy fire season, which the weekend's lightning strikes started sooner than expected, as the state's rainfall has been below average for two years, leaving grass, brush and timber bone dry in many areas. (Reporting by Jim Christie; editing by Dan Whitcomb and Todd Eastham)