Chalk Fire, Day 4

7:00 am – Early morning visual. Smoke plumes quite visible, much more so than yesterday morning, more like what I saw during the day, so it appears the Chalk Fire was active last night, but don’t know the details. You can compare this morning’s plume with yesterday morning’s plume, in Day 3. Last truck through last night was midnight. First one through this am, 6:30. Also, got a call from a former student of mine. Grew up down here, knows everyone and has hiked these hills all his life. Left a message for his dad, Chicago Kid, which I will deliver when I see him.

This morning’s plume.

Betty did not send her usual evening update, last night, which is worrisome. Hopefully, I will hear from her today.

Inciweb should be publishing around 7:30 am. We’ll see what they have to say, but of course, it has not been particularly accurate re estimated acreage. Weather is no wind, 60’s and clear. And so, day 4 begins…

8:00 am – We are up to 1100 personnel on this fire. YAY!! Next 12 hours, it is expected to move south. 11 people advised to evacuate in Dempsey Flat area, and Beiar Property. Oh, and Dempsey Flats is where my friend and reporter, Betty, lives.

BSVFB member just came through and informed me that the fire crossed Mill Creek and is coming up on the houses. It is between JP and Ted’s places and is getting closer to Rocky & Geri, everyone over there is in danger.

8:45 am – Keith just came screaming through to go to Rocky & Geri’s. This from their daughter, Shelagh, an email she sent her brother:

chatting with mom at 7:40. They are still at the house. The fire is running up the canyon now. JP is gelling his house right now and Ted managed to save his last night (YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!) Ted and Surge are holding the line at the Knock but the fire is in our spring and below us, at Al’s, and to the north side, and it’s below Peter’s trailer to the west.

Someone (brigade, forest service?) is bringing foil to wrap the house up later this morning, which is really good news, too. They are also going to start gelling as soon as the sun rises (around 9 or 10) if the winds shift. No one is leaving unless they are forced to but it probably won’t come to that. New estimates are that the fire will come through our place today but not sure when. It’s still creeping. There is lots of constant communication between our place and the Knock.

Bob is heading up from the coast to refuel Volunteer engines, including the one at our house. He is bringing another leaf blower up from Pt 16 and they’re going to back burn in front of the house this morning. Not sure how much back burning they’ve done already…

They are smoking a LOT of cigarettes (this seems to be my mission up here in Seattle… that and cookies!) and Warren was able to get over the ridge on his ATV last night and bring in supplies. I’m not sure whether you can get in through Nacimiento but I know the Plaskett route is passable and Kate has her gate open.

That’s all I know. I’ll send you more later. Hope you’re doing okay out there.


REMINDER: I have NOT confirmed that Ted’s house is saved. In fact, the BSVFB member told me the fire was BETWEEN JP and Ted.

9:00 am – This just shot of Alm’s Ridge. You can see the fire spotters and trucks on the right. All the places that “she” (Shelagh) reports on in her email are just over that ridge. Busy day.

9:45 am – just confirmed w/ LPNF ff, no homes lost. Oh, and Lycia, I sent a message to the newlywed on TNF, that his wife says “hi!” (I figured out what the “T” stood for — duh!)

10:30 am – Here’s a better, and current, shot of the plumes behind Alm’s Ridge. Look at all the red and green on the ridge!! Lots of air support this am, too, although I haven’t seen the DC-10, yet. It came in very late, yesterday, too. But boy those bombers are workin’ it!!

For those of you not familiar with the area, that is Cone Peak standing tall in the background.

11:00 am – significant increase in plumes. It is taking a run. Photos to follow.

JUST received this from Wild Cattle: “Thanks Kate for the updates. It really helps. The support we are getting is unheard of in this area….very grateful that it is happening.”

Confirmed with a local who spent the night at the Noc that the fire burned around Ted’s place. Also confirmed that Betty is fine. This new run was happening as the local was arriving, and he did not know about it, as he was driving away from the area. He watched from my deck. The three photos above were taken back by the launch road on my property.

Today is critical. I’ll be taking a field trip at my usual time (noon). I’m going to leave a little early, and take a little longer, to see how far I can get, and what I can see. I will be back around 1:30 or so. I have a friend bringing me more gas and those nasty cigarettes that I seem to be going through at a record rate. Stress?? What’s that?? So, everybody reading today, particularly if you find yourself “glued” to my reports, take a breath. Get something to eat and take care of yourselves — particularly if you have friends or family whose houses are threatened, or if you have loved ones on this fire. Remember what Wild Cattle said, we have unheard of support for this area. They are providing a record number of assets for this small mountain community. We are very, very fortunate.

1:30 pm – I am back from my field trip. Before I get into my more factual reporting, I would like to offer an emotional one. Seeing the huge plumes and knowing I was driving into them, was quite eerie. For several miles, I did not see a single human being, except through the telephoto lens, at a long distance from me. The road I was traveling was desolate, not just in terms of human sightings, but also in terms of the dozer work done yesterday. I was not frightened, or even anxious, as I knew I would run into a roadblock if I got too close to the action. But there was an aloneness I rarely feel even when I am alone.

Now for the factual account: Not as much action on the South Coast Ridge Rd. today as there was yesterday. The “run” I witnessed is on the east side of SC Ridge Rd. near Rocky & Geri, who are in the most immediate danger, but there is lots of support for them at their house, so we will be keeping them in our thoughts all day.

The USFS would not let me up Alms Ridge this afternoon. Too many men, equipment, dozers, and many bombers making runs. They are painting the entire Prewitt Ridge with fire retardant, from the top to the ocean. Seems to me the DC-10 could lay down a line like that in just one or two runs. They are also putting in a dozer line on the east, on a ridge that comes off the south side of McKern Rd. right at SC Ridge Rd., which is good news for me. However, no work has been done between McKern and Plaskett.

Wild Cattle had this to say, just a short while ago: “All is good here. No fire visible, just smoke coming out of the Noc. We are preparing for it to come through. My last visitors, 2 guys a couple of hours ago, said the best thing for me is to stay put….I am in a good position if it comes from the top…If it comes up the canyon I am not so good…..I figure we may have 24 hours.”

I did take photos and will post a few shortly.

3:30 pm – Sorry, a friend came up to visit and bring me supplies to support my blogging efforts, and she and I got distracted by the great air show happening on Prewitt Ridge. The best seat in the house was on my deck. Wow!! Laying down some red!! More photos, but first I’ll start with the ones from my “field trip.”

This is the dozer work going on on the ridge which comes off of the intersection of McKern & South Coast Ridge Rd. The one with the black top is from Cachagua Fire, Skee Stanley’s crew!! You guys are awesome!!

I’m having trouble uploading my photos, so bear with me, I will get them up just as soon as I can.

This is another view, taken about an hour later of this morning’s run. It is to the east of SC Ridge Rd, I have heard it placed in the general area of the pond near Rocky & Geri’s gate, but have not confirmed that. I DID confirm that it was part of the main fire, not a burn out operation. This shot was taken from Plaskett Ridge Rd. before it hooks up with SC Ridge Rd.

This is part of a hand crew working Alm’s Ridge Rd. at the intersection with SC Ridge Rd. There were hand crews up Alm’s Ridge Rd. as far as I could see.

4:10 pm – As to the firefighter injury, I just got official word that the injury was minor. It was either a rolling branch, or falling branch, but the firefighter was evaluated by the medical team, and as far as USFS knows, is back on the job. Good news. No other injuries reported. So, all your loved ones are still okay.

Other immediate news: the plumes visible from my place are extending further south than they were earlier today. Two USFS trucks with smaller crews (5-6?) just came through my yard. Packs tossed into the beds of the trucks. Until now I have not seen any real “crews” come in this way. It has been the bosses, a scout, dozer supervisor, those types. Not the real-on-the-ground hand crews that I just saw.

Here is one from the air show this afternoon. It was unbelievable to watch, and even better to photograph. These guys are one of a kind — really gutsy. My father flew (crop dusters, at one point), my first husband flew, I was a unicom operator. Pilots, just like firefighters, are a breed apart. It is no wonder they come together like this. If anyone reads this and knows the pilot. Tell him or her, I had a great afternoon watching the best show on the coast!!

Isn’t that beautiful?? I have a whole series, from start to end of drop, and I will upload them tonight in their own post.

Bombers still bombing, but I cannot tell where. Going for a look. I cannot be sure, but it appears they may be bombing McKern in anticipation. A friend on the other side of the Santa Lucias called this evening, and he has a clear view of the top. From his perspective, McKern road sits at 12 o’clock. The fire, sits at 2 o’clock. However, he is more worried that the fire, which is close to the top of Alm’s ridge is going to hit the top some time tonight. I will be keeping my eyes open, that is for sure!!

6:45 pm – here is an update on Rocky & Geri I got from Shelagh around 5 pm. I thought I had posted it, but don’t see it here. “Hi Kate, Thanks for the posts! I just talked to Bob Milton, who was up at our place a couple hours ago, and he reported that the fire had burned through our spring and up the hill toward the Coast Ridge Road from the house, missing our house! I talked to him around 5:00 pm but he said that report was a couple hours old but our house was still there when he looked back from the summit. Also, he reported that the house (Baird) had been wrapped in fire blankets, so there they had to take solar panels, etc, down, which is why Kelson and I have been unable to get in touch with them. This is very relieving news for the time being! Weird stressing about your parents… 🙂 Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the posts and the pictures and all the good wishes. Big Sur is awesome!!! What an amazing community we have! Thanks again! Love she”

I spoke with a LPNF official who was on site all day today, and he informed me the fire is everywhere. It is spreading down N-F Rd. on both sides toward H-L. It is spreading down N-F Rd. on both sides towards the coast. It is on both sides of S.C. Ridge Rd. spreading towards Alm’s Ridge. He also informed me that he believes a burn out operation may be planned for the east side of SC Ridge Rd, from Alm’s Ridge to McKern. But organizations, like small rural communities, are prone to rumors, too. So, I wouldn’t bet on it until it is official.

8:30 pm – Okay, I really, really AM going to post that series of bombing runs tonight, but first some “official” updates from some “unofficial” sources:

First: Current acreage – 3,453 acres & 8% containment.
The winds have transitioned and are now from the NE, this should assist in securing the fire’s western perimeter. Crews made good progress in cutting direct on the northwest corner of the fire near Nasciemento & Cone Peak Roads. If conditions are favorable they will attempt some burnout tonight.”

And here is the official inciweb report, in pertinent part, as the acreage and containment are as stated above:
The fire became active earlier today than on previous days. Crews constructed and improved control lines all day. Burning out operations are occurring only when necessary and when crews feel the conditions are favorable. The fire has the potential to move extremely quickly and erratically tonight. Crews and dozers will continue to construct and improve lines tonight where possible and provide structure protection in the Dempsey Flat area. Firefighter and public safety will remain the highest priority.

An Evacuation Warning is in effect for the immediate fire area south of Chalk Peak and South Coast Ridge Road. This warning is given for affected areas where there is imminent threat to life and property. Persons who receive this notice should evacuate in accordance with the direction of the deputies on scene. Approximately 7 homes, the Forest Service Nacimiento Fire Station, and 4 outbuildings are within this Evacuation Warning area.
An Evacuation Watch is in place for the Lucia, Mill Creek, Hare Creek and Limekiln State Park. This order is for areas where a threat to life and property exists. Persons issued this notice are not required to evacuate but should be prepared to evacuate should an Evacuation Warning be issued.

Firefox is right, our BSVFB is doing a TREMENDOUS job!!! They are the ones who probably saved Rocky & Geri’s house today. They deserve all the support we can provide. I have spoken to many volunteers over the past 4 days and honor each and every one!

9:30 pm – just got off the phone with PIO Rich (sorry, can’t remember last name). I was very happy with the sharing of information. We are both on information overload, so I don’t want to misquote him, but the sharing was great. Neither of us was sure about where the late bombings or “laying down of retardant” was occurring, so we compared notes. We spoke of possible burn outs tonight, and as he explained, it is such a changing situation, it is hard to predict. He felt that tonight would primarily be in relationship to structure protection, but that if a fire approached a line, like the one made at McKern road today, too fast or too hot, then a burn out would have to occur to protect the line. I really felt as if we were having a conversation, rather than I was being fed the “party line.” Thanks, Rich. I’d love to meet you!

I’ll post more when I know more. No more tonight. I am putting up the new post with the bombing run.

18 thoughts on “Chalk Fire, Day 4

  1. Hi Kate,
    Shelagh here. Just talked to my mom and the good news it that Ted’s and Sarah’s house was saved! (YAY!) JP is gelling now. Apparently, there was a lot of activity last night and the fire made a fast run up toward Cone Peak last night.
    That’s not a lot of information… Thanks for your posts!

  2. Hi Kate,
    Thank you so much for this website, it’s such a relief to get up to date info. Surge is my husband, and because we have a baby i’m not able to be at the Knock -which leaves me searching for as much info as possible. if you hear anything significant about surge, dempsey flat…etc. could you please email me.

  3. Hi Kate,

    I agree with Rhea in thanking you for this site. I am Betty’s youngest sister, and I live in the South East Fresno County area. If you get a chance, please let Betty know that Bird, David and I are here to help in any way that we can. David said that he will deal with the immediate needs, and Bird will step in this time like I did last time, if needed. We are praying for safety and preservation of life while this process works its way.

  4. I don’t know whether to thank you or to quit visiting your site ever 2 seconds as I have been… these pictures (the most recent ones here @ 11-11:30 today are making me sick sick sick… but really, Kate, thank you… *hugs* Tonya

  5. Down here at the school, we are all here holding our breath and rootin’ for all of you, and the heroes up top! This morning at the bus stop, I told little Jaden that his father (Carin Provost)is very brave, fighting a big dangerous fire…even more brave than Jaden’s favorite “Power Rangers”. As far as I am concerned, the same applies to all of you up there. Hope everyone’s homes can be saved through the eminent burn-over, and that the “box” will hold.
    And yes, you, Kate are certainly to be commended for your keeping us informed through all the radical stress and battles.
    Blessings from everyone at the school.

    Stay safe
    David Allan

  6. Hi Kate:
    Thanks for all of the time & energy you are putting into this site. It is a very valuable tool & we all appreciate it! I would like to share a little more to the history of this fire that may or may not be related but I think it is very important & hopefully the authorities already know about it?? I was sitting in the Big Sur State Park Saturday Evening with a group of friends when a gentleman from the campsite next to us came over & said that the Park Ranger had just come & informed them that someone had started 2 small fires in the Park. They had them out but he told us to keep our eyes & ears open for anything out of the ordinary. Of course we did but then we all rolled into our sleeping bags & as soon as my head hit the pillow I heard the sirens going south. The “Fire Bug” hadn’t succeeded in the Park so he moved further south & started the Chalk Fire I’m assuming. I told my friends that I should have called Duke & Luke right then but there was no cell service in the Park!! Very Frustrating! I’m just making a leap here in thinking it was the same person or persons but the State Parks guys need to get with the Forest Service & Cal Fire on this one & catch who ever did this!! Food for thought….. Thanks, Sand Dollar

  7. “Seems to me the DC-10 could lay down a line like that in just one or two runs. ”

    Kate, now you are thinking like a Division Supervisor. We have to get you a white hat.
    Great job BTW!

  8. I read on inciweb that there was a firefighter injury on this fire. Do you know anything about that?

  9. I am an old friend of Betty Withrow’s from Teaneck days (now living in Asheville, NC). Please let her know my thoughts and prayers are with her and all of you.

  10. I hear that there is some clearing around PV Center this PM and from the latest thermals I think we could see a burnout pretty soon.

  11. Kate and Sand Dollar,
    Regarding our little fire-starter at state parks: Whoever it was was trying hard to start fires where people would see them easily and where risk of spread was minimal: IE campground in a stump and park entrance kiosk on a redwood log. By the time the second small fire was noted, on a redwood log next to the park kiosk, the Chalk Fire was well on it’s way and in totally different fuels,terrain, etc.
    Not the first time someone has wanted to see shiny red firetrucks rumble into a campground all lights and sirens. Back in June, one small tyke got his wish by calling 911 repeatedly form Big Sur Campground, hour after hour.
    How long does it take to drive from Pfieffer to Apple Camp?

  12. Kate,
    Our troops are working hard to keep the Knock and other homesteads safe and sound. I hope that you will say some nice things about BSVFB. These women and men are missing work, families, and comfy beds to serve our neighbors without any compensation. They are true heroes, putting their time and livelihood on the line to be there for South Coast.
    A real good example of North and South Coat pulling together to make it happen from top Chief to newest newbie firefighter.
    I am watching over them all and want to make sure they don’t die for dirt and wood.

  13. Kurt, I’m sure Shelagh will get back to you, but I know for sure that Geri needs cookies… lots and lots of them… and cigarettes, too, I think. She doesn’t usually smoke, so I think this is a temporary need… 🙂

  14. Kurt, THANKS! I haven’t talked to them since early Tuesday morning but am in touch with them through Bob Milton. I think they’re okay, aside from my mom’s weird sugar habit (she does not smoke, though!)

    Just want to publicly thank EVERYONE involved with helping out up there with my parents and the with the Withrows, JP, Ted and Sarah, Al, and everyone else. You are all amazing and very, very appreciated. Super thanks to the ever-formidable and indomitable BSVFB. You all personify what makes Big Sur so incredible. Thank you!!!

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