Big Sur is Burning

It's been burning since the 21st of June. Big Sur is one of my favorite places. I've hiked there, camped there, swam in the river there, danced on the mountain tops there, and have wonderful memories of my family there. DH and I took his mom and dad there a few months before his dad died. Nepenthe, although a building and business, is a big part of my life and memories and the thought of it burning down to the ground kills me.

Fire Unexpectedly Worsens; Big Sur Is Ordered to Evacuate

BIG SUR, Calif. — Facing a stubborn fire, California officials ordered the evacuation of Big Sur on Wednesday as flames flared on nearby mountaintops and moved steadily toward this coastal retreat.

Firefighters have been attacking a fire near Big Sur for 11 days and had been helped in recent days by fog, moist conditions and lighter winds. Seventeen homes have been lost here — more than half the total destroyed statewide from the first major wildfires of the season — but many residents had been allowed to remain as the fire stayed to the east and south.

But overnight Tuesday the fire unexpectedly intensified, prompting mandatory evacuations of residents on both sides of Highway 1, the scenic coastal byway that runs through the Big Sur valley.

“It’s tough to move out of your home; we understand that,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who visited the town with federal emergency officials on Wednesday, “but do it.”

Yellow smoke and ash mixed in the air as a procession of possession-laden cars, trucks and vans streamed north out of town. Horses, goats, cats and dogs were also being trucked out by animal welfare workers, as helicopters ferried back and forth to the ocean, drawing out water to dump on smoldering hillsides east of town.

One of those evacuating was Erica Sanborn, 28, who was living with her husband and their dog in a hotel in Big Sur, having already been forced out of their home, farther south on the coast.

“I’m kind of numb,” said Ms. Sanborn, an emergency room nurse who awoke to an evacuation order after a night shift. “I would never think that Big Sur could burn.”

Statewide, more than 19,000 firefighters and other workers have been fighting fires since June 20, when a line of storms and lightning sparked hundreds of blazes across the northern and central parts of the state. The blaze near Big Sur — known as the Basin Complex — is just one of some 1,100 confirmed fires on federal and state lands in California, according to CalFire, the state fire agency, though exact figures were hard to confirm. Hundreds of others have been contained or put out.

Costs were also rising. State officials have spent more than $50 million on the current fires, according to CalFire. On Tuesday, Mr. Schwarzenegger had ordered around 200 National Guard troops to provide ground support to firefighters.

The major culprit in the blazes is a persistent drought that has made for volatile fire conditions. Steep terrain was also complicating firefighting efforts. Tina Rose, a spokeswoman for the fire operation, said that about 20 miles of Highway 1 along the coast were closed, shutting down access to famous — and currently shuttered — resorts like the Ventana Inn and the Post Ranch.

One local celebrity, the Beach Boys’ guitarist Al Jardine, said he had loaded up a trailer with musical equipment on Monday night, and was hoping to hold out before the evacuation order came.

“It’s depressing,” Mr. Jardine said. “People are walking around like zombies.”

So many articles I could post...

As fire nears Big Sur, residents and beasts flee

July 3, 2008

BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) — Piles of charred rubble smoldered near California's scenic coastal highway Thursday as a ferocious wildfire descended on the storied tourist town of Big Sur, destroying vacation homes and sending forest creatures running toward the sea for cover.
The stubborn blaze, which has burned more than 100 square miles in the Los Padres National Forest, was just one of hundreds raging around the state. And officials on Thursday reported California's first firefighter death this year — a volunteer who collapsed on the fire line in Mendocino County.

So much forest has burned near Big Sur that animals have been forced out of their habitat and onto the roads. Buzzards flew overhead to snatch up dead rodents and squirrels, and residents reported seeing bear, deer and other big animals migrating toward the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, crews near the Pacific Coast Highway fought back flames from homes and historic landmarks, including the upscale Ventana Inn, which was surrounded by crackling, burning brush.

Several homes perched on a ridge about a quarter-mile from the cliffside inn fell victim to the fire the night before.

At least 20 homes have been destroyed in the area since the blaze broke out June 21, up from 17 homes counted Wednesday. The fire was only 5% contained by Thursday evening.

Many Big Sur residents followed mandatory evacuation orders issued this week, but some chose to defy the orders, staying behind to try to save their homes and businesses.

Kirk Gafill, general manager of Nepenthe, said he and five employees were up all night trying to protect the cliffside restaurant his grandparents built in 1949. Wearing dust masks, the crew scrambled to stamp out embers, some the size of dinner plates, that were dropping from the sky, he said.

"We know fire officials don't have the manpower to secure our properties," Gafill said. "There are a lot of people in this community not following evacuation orders. Based on what we saw during Katrina and other disasters, we know we can only rely on ourselves and our neighbors."

Greg Ambrosio, who lives next to Nepenthe, signed a waiver Wednesday night to stay in his house. But his plans to stay were disrupted when he was awoken by a neighbor in the middle of the night who warned of the approaching inferno.

"Then there's a knock on the door, and we go outside and the fire had just expanded. It was Armageddon," he said. "Just yellow smoke and ash mixed with fire. It was just raining down."

Ambrosio said he and his wife grabbed their cat and drove to a relative's house for the night.

A total of 367 wildfires are burning in the state, most ignited by lightning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, and the U.S. Forest Service. That figure is down from a peak of roughly 1,500 fires just a few days ago.

In all, the wildfires have scorched more than 790 square miles and destroyed at least 65 structures across northern and central California since June 20, according to Cal Fire.

With firefighting resources stretched thin early in the fire season, counties have been recruiting volunteer firefighters to help with smaller blazes.

On Thursday, volunteer firefighter Robert Roland, 63, died in a Mendocino County hospital after collapsing a day earlier while battling lightning-sparked blazes in the area, north of the San Francisco Bay region. It was the first reported death of a firefighter this season, and the governor ordered flags at the Capitol to fly at half-staff.

Crews made progress at a separate wildfire burning nearly 130 square miles southeast of Big Sur. The blaze, also in Los Padres National Forest, was about 95% contained Thursday.


Stephanie said...

How sad. :(

Monica said...

My Dad said they're trying desperately to protect Nepenthe and that the flames are near, but safe so far. Hopefully, he's right. I would die a hundred times if Nepenthe burned down. They have THE greatest mexican coffee....

Serendipite said...

UGH This is where H and I were going to spend our one year anniversary, at Deetjens. It would be catastrophic if any of it burns, esp. the landmarks! :(