Labor Day Weekend in the Wilds

Went down the coast, Saturday. Was surprised the signs were still up, the barricade was still in place. My road was still closed. This was around 9:30 am. Down the coast, I noticed Salmon Creek was doing a brisk business. Hmmm…

Got back to the dirt around 4 pm. Barricade gone. Oh, shit. It was nice while it lasted. Two months without tourists, campers, yay-hoos and beer-guzzlin’ rednecks, shootin’ up the wilds. It was peaceful, but for the cause of this wonderful solitude.

I expected the hills to be crawling. I was happily mistaken. I saw two vehicles. One, coming down, and another in the middle of the road, getting out of my way, or pulling in to camp, I could not be sure. I also saw a load of firewood. I tried not to jump to conclusions.

I motioned the gal over, while the guy backed up the truck. “Is that firewood in the back? You are not planning on having a campfire, are you?” She looked so horrified, I was almost sorry I asked. She gave the sign of a hex. “Absolutely not!” She said. “That is for friends in Big Sur, for their winter wood! I would NEVER have a fire up here, right now!”

You know, I completely believed her.

Today, I found my old book from the “Wild” Fire of 1996. I have old photographs, newspaper articles, and surprisingly a BAER report advising residents what they could do to mitigate the damage of the fire with reseeding, mitigating run-off, etc. Did not realize I’d kept that. Will be interesting to see the differences between 1996 and 2008’s recommendations. When I get time (maybe this winter?) I will try to scan some of that into my computer so I can post it. I also found my old book from the El Nino of 1998. I guess I am a historian at heart.

Los Padres Opens south of N-F Rd

This is the USFS public notice:

“Areas of Los Padres National Forest south of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road in Monterey County will open to the public at midnight Friday night, the U.S. Forest Service said today.
With the exception of a few facilities along the Big Sur Coast and the Arroyo Seco Campground and Day Use Area west of Greenfield, all National Forest lands north of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road will remain closed to public entry.

The closure has been in place as a result of the Indians and Basin Complex wild fires which burned much of Los Padres in Monterey County.

Wood and charcoal fires and recreational target shooting are currently prohibited in all areas of Los Padres.

Smoking is prohibited except within an enclosed vehicle, building or designated Campfire Use Site.

For more information about public access to the national forest, contact the Forest Service office in King City at 385-5434.”

Oh, boy, just in time for the huge labor day crowds. Red flag warnings should be issued. I understand we have three patrols down here this weekend. That should help.

Heart of an Angel

Heart of an Angel, originally uploaded by wind_dancer.

We lost one of our own, early this morning in an automobile accident. Details are still sketchy, and an investigation is still ongoing.

She was only 17, and a beautiful young girl. This photo is in remembrance of her and her bubbly, bright smile and personality. Her parents have been notified, and all up and down the coast, everyone knows who she is, but out of respect for the privacy of her parents, I am withholding her name from my blog. Just know that the majority of the coast is in morning today.

UPDATE, both the driver of the SUV the young girl was riding in, and the driver of the truck that struck the SUV after it rolled, have been arrested on felony hit and runs. They will probably both be charged with felony DUI, if the information I have received is accurate, and one of them may easily be charged with voluntary manslaughter. It is so sad, all the way around.

Big Sur Regrowth & Burn Severity Map

Burn Severity Map:

(Click on Map to view in larger size)

Other google-oriented burn maps are available here:
Cal-Trans has posted some great aerial shots of all the affected watersheds that lead to highway one. I really suggest you take a look at these wonderful shots. They are fascinating to study to see the burn pattern. They belong to Cal-Trans, and cannot be used without permission. Click on the Cal-Trans link under “photos.”

Hastings Reserve did an aerial flight of the perimeter of the fire, and has posted a large number of photos, here:

Good News from Dr. Readdie of Big Creek Reserve:

“Some observations made along the Coast Ridge and down the fire break to Dolan Ridge along the fire break.

By July 17th there were bracken ferns growing along coast ridge road. Grasses growing along Dolan Ridge. Some scrub oaks re sprouting at higher elevations (3500′).

August 1 Yerba santa growing in the dozer line, grass was higher along the burned areas on Dolan Ridge, blackberries growing out of the dozer break as well.

These areas burned during the first and second week of July. We have already taken photos at GPS locations and plan to set up permanent monitoring plots to watch regrowth of the plant communities
over time and to assess potential damage from erosion.

I forgot to mention the coffee berry and ceonothus that were regrowing as well.

I will have more information next week after we do some quantitative surveys. I will do a survey in one are we found that burned very hot in Rat Creek. Those areas will have the conditions where recovery will be slow and erosion will be potentially the worst. The interesting thing is that those areas seem patchy and not necessarily extensive.

Have you seen the burn severity map from the BAER process? I have attached it here. [See below] You will notice that it actually shows the patchiness of severely burned areas and that they may be less extensive on the coastal slope than it seems by appearance. Even the area around the Big Sur river gorge, that looks completely black now, is labeled moderate. I think we will start to get a feel for the difference between what “looks badly burned” and what actually “is badly burned”.

It will be very interesting to see how much natural growth and germination we get during July-November before the big rains start. Actually, that seems like a really long time, much longer than what may be normal for recovery time before a rain. It sure was surprising to me to see so many green shoots so quickly with no precipitation. Even up high where it was over 90 degrees. Studies show that typically, only the areas that end up with a layer of white ash have all the seed bank burned, while the black areas rapidly recover.

I am trying to get a Big Creek blog set up where I can post these kind of observations. I’m really behind since I make new observations every week. You bloggers really understand this! I have a bunch of stuff written down in my little notebook though and hope to make it all available online through our website.”

> Mark Readdie, Ph.D.
> Resident Director
> Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve (
> University of California at Santa Cruz
NOTE: Also, please note that I have updated the Cal-Trans Project page today, to include additional, and more current data on the Pitkins/Rain Rocks project, now scheduled to begin in September of 2009, rather than March of 2009. It includes all the various types of “delays” and “closures” and the notification procedures for all.

umbrellas on black

umbrellas on black, originally uploaded by wind_dancer.

On the deck
Sunday afternoon
listening to music
accompanied by lilting
river sounds.
Sunday afternoons
in Big Sur, in summer,
with friends.

It is hard to take time for friends and myself, right now, but it is important, none-the-less. Last Sunday, I took the time, and spent the afternoon at River Inn, having lunch, enjoying music, and the company of friends. This Sunday, it is work, work, and more work.

Monday, I am meeting with a reporter from USAToday for a travel piece. Why me? I don’t have a clue, other than she likes my blog and my photographs.

Did you know? … Fire Facts

I have been reading some fascinating books, which I highly recommend, if you are interested in fire behavior, USFS fire flighting techniques, and their origins. Here are some interesting facts from a couple of these books.

Did you know that on August 20, 1886, Civil War General Phil Sheridan started the federal government’s role in firefighting by ordering the Calvary in to fight a wildfire in the world’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872? Sheridan ordered Captain Moses Harris into the park to fight the fires that had been raging for months. The strategies Capt. Harris employed are still used today. (“Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America” by Rocky Barker, pp. 1, 4.)

This book is an excellent history of the formation of the USFS, national parks, and the historical political background of the battle for conservation, fire suppression, and fire use practices. It is an easy read and provides original sources for information dating back to 1872.

Did you know that IC Ellreese Daniels, of the Thirtymile Fire in July of 2001 was sentenced yesterday, after being the first IC in history to be criminally charged for the deaths of four firefighters that got caught in an embankment, deploying their fire shelters in this fire? After seven years, he pled to two counts of lying during the investigation, and the four manslaughter charges were dismissed. (“Thirtymile Fire” by John Maclean;

Both books are fascinating reading, and will help us to understand how wildland fires are fought and why certain decisions are made. “Thirtymile Fire,” which I have finished, is a great read for firefighter and layperson alike. Five years of investigation, interviews, and pouring over thousands of documents regarding this incident went into the reporting of this catastrophe. Mr. Maclean’s biases, if any, are well hidden by the factual reporting he does, and yet, it is written as a story, that captivates the reader from beginning to end.

Did you know that current USFS fire policies mandate fighting man-made fires like the Indians fire and letting nature-cause fires like the Basin Fire burn, other than structure and personnel protection? (I’ll have to find the cite for that, as I cannot find it, at the moment.)

Did you know that the IC of the Basin Complex fire, Mike Dietrich, lost five of his own in a burn-over in the Esperanza Fire in So. Cal in 2006? (

Many of us, myself included, questioned the decisions made in the management of the Basin Complex Fire. It behooves us to understand the history behind these decisions, and why they are made, before we can hope to understand and challenge them. I, for one, am educating myself, and offering others the opportunity to do the same.

Lightning Strikes

Numerous lightning strike fires have ignited this am in SB and SLO counties. Supposedly, the storm is moving north, per a VWA observer in SLO, and radar posted below supports this. Reports for Monterey County are clear, although the unstable weather pattern is predicted to remain throughout today and this evening in the counties to our south. I have heard what MAY be distant thunder up here, but haven’t checked the static on my AM radio to be certain.

12:15 pm – well, it is here. I can see rain out at sea and increasing clouds, getting darker to the south. I am definitely hearing thunder, now, also. Don’t need to check my AM radio.

1:00 pm – sprinkles, rare thunder. Let’s hope it continues — the sprinkles, not the thunder. Haven’t seen any strikes, but watching for them.

2:00 pm – passed through rather gently and moved on. Seems to be mostly out-to-sea, now.

See the comment section for a report from KSBY about the storm and resulting fires.

Here is the radar shot (please note times of radar shots):

Sky surfing

Sky surfing, originally uploaded by wind_dancer.

I’ll be taking a few days off from my blog so I can get back to my day job, unless something untoward happens in the mean time.

Hanging over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday afternoon, I saw this cloud wave breaking over our coast. These gifts remind me every day of why I live and love here.

BSMAAC meeting, 8/12/08

Last night’s meeting was quite informative. Representatives from a multitude of agencies were available to discuss processes, including Monterey County Planning Department, who explained emergency permit processes, waiver of fees, etc. BAER (USFS) and SEATS (Cal-Fire) were present and explained the process of assessment of the burned areas, and the mitigation procedures available. They will look at and consider all available options for the prevention of slides this winter. BAER will have a report available within 7-10 days, and SEATS will have theirs available in 14 days. Both will be posted on their websites. Anyone who wants to have their private property assessed for potential sliding and watershed problems, can contact cpoa to sign up. (

Several times, BAER and SEATS both used terms like, “Get out of the way” in talking about landslides, flooding, etc. Michael Miller asked if this meant “mandatory evacuation.” Of course, SEATS explained the danger of remaining rather than answer the question directly.

Steve Price, of Cal-Trans, presented information on how they plan to handle the 900 culverts between SLO Co. line and the Carmel River, and what they are currently doing now in anticipation of problems. In a few instances, they are going considerably up slope clearing. He does not anticipate any bridge problems, but even if there were, they have the temporary, instant install bridges like the one they used on Carmel River, in 1995, I believe it was.

One interesting thing Steve Price had to say, from a South Coast perspective, is that if winter flooding and slides are significant, then the Pitkin’s Curve/Rain Rocks project scheduled to begin in March of 2009 and take 4 and 1/2 years to complete, will be pushed back. Lane management (closures) will also be assessed based on winter road conditions. (I am paraphrasing this whole section — particularly “significant” as I did not note the exact word Steve used.)

Frank Pinney presented the plan, utilized in 1998, of a local incident command, offering control, governance, and communication, with links all up and down the coast. The IC would undergo special training, as would the rest of those in the project, and would include Citizen Emergency Response Teams with representatives from all areas of the coast. When he said, “control,” I got nervous. Typical South Coast response, I guess.

CPOA has been instrumental in coordinating efforts between all the various agencies involved in the rebuilding and winter protection of Big Sur. They continue to have many meetings, including one coming up on the 21st to continue the dialogue and process in this arena.

It is impossible to predict what will happen this winter. While we can compare to the floods of 1972 after the Marble-Cone fire to what we may experience this winter, most feel even though this fire was HUGELY different in terms of intensity and acreage burned, there is quite a bit of optimism, as we are infinitely more prepared, having various plans already in place, and assessments going on as I type. But the consensus seems to be (we did not really vote) that it is best to prepare for the worst, and perhaps, it will not happen.

For those of you interested in listening to the whole 2 plus hour meeting, or any portions thereof, Kelly O’Brien will have the audio posted on her life in the fire lane blog, and KUSP website in a day or two.

I will post website links later today at the bottom of this post, when I find them in my Jeep.