Calling For Stories — Where were you 6/21/08??!!

Many of us will never forget where we were on June 21, 2008, watching the incredible lightning that literally sparked what was originally the Gallery Fire, morphed into the devastating Basin Fire.

In commemoration of this life-changing event, I invite everyone to tell the story of that day, or a part of it, or the next day, or what you remember, or the year since it occurred, or what it has meant for you. You don’t have to live in Big Sur, but if you follow this blog, then your heart is here, and you were here in spirit when you first heard the news. You can either leave it in the comment section for this post, or send me a private email at
I will keep it anonymous, use an aka, or not publish at all, whatever you choose.

All this week, until the anniversary of the fire, I will leave this post up at the top, so that we can all share what that day and this year has meant. Please join me in sharing your experience, publicly or privately.
Thank you, bigsurkate.

Still adding a few posts this week, immediately below this one, so scroll down to see Paul’s Memorial and other photos to be added.

13 thoughts on “Calling For Stories — Where were you 6/21/08??!!

  1. This is part of what I wrote in my journal on 6/21/08:

    “Got nothing work-related done today. There’s ANOTHER fire, actually two. One of them is the Gallery fire, at Coast Gallery, and the second is the ? fire at Pine Canyon and Bear Camp in the Ventana Wilderness. Either or both could hook up with the Indians Fire … hopefully a long shot. THAT would be an absolute disaster!”

    Later, “It crested the hill and Highway One is closed. Oy vey! It is called the Gallery Fire. There is also the Basin Fire back in the wilderness. There is talk of letting these two, and an unnamed third fire burn back to join the Indians Fire. I watched the fire until 10:15. I suspect I will be up early in the am to check it”

    I’ve been keeping journals for almost 50 years, but only have the last 30 years worth. So, most days, I can tell exactly where I was and what I was doing. I’ve given instructions they are to be burned upon my death. Please.

  2. I remember hearing on the noon news (KION) while I sat here in my studio in Pacific Grove, that there was yet another fire developing in the Las Padres (film at 5 as they said). I was frightened for the people that lived in the areas involved, especially the south coast.

  3. The day of the Gallery Fire was Hidden Garden Tour Day. The gardens here had been punished by over a week of 90plus heat and dryness and all the roses had shriveled up along with many other blooms. as the lightening began to strike, a sheriff officer saw the initial start up on Grimes from the Coast Gallery side. Because of that landmark it was named Gallery IC instead of Grimes. I lingered about 20 minutes, trying to hand over the garden tour logistics to someone else, then geared up and went out.
    I met Chief Karstens at the base of Grimes and set out on foot for the engines. I was given a hose pack and a bag of water bottles to send up to the fire.
    The hike was gruelling up the steep hill with the grass making each step slippery. I reached the black after almost 10 minutes, then the nozzle man another 5 minutes later. I handed off my hose pack but suddenly had a huge pain in my chest. Another firefighter was throwing up from the heat and exertion nearby.
    Crystal thought I better go back down hill. I started down and had to sit every few minutes, I was completely soaked and my skins was hot and red. I met a 20 yo USFS firefighter half way down who was looking pretty bad, he was also laid down by the heat and steepness. We walked down together.
    The slope was so steep and the fire moving so quickly uphill in the heat it was impossible to lay hose fast enough. We were bursting lines and kept having to run back and replace hose.
    By then the fire was well in the trees up top and the helicopter seemed to almost have it.
    I went home thinking it would be all over in a few hours……

  4. From Kage Baker:

    Hi Kate,

    Hope this isn’t too long– I have three pictures but I’ll send them under separate cover.

    I was on the Hidden Gardens Tour. My sister and I got up early and drove up from Pismo Beach. We had a leisurely breakfast at the Kevah at Nepenthe, where it was already obvious the day was going to be shimmeringly hot. As we dined, though, all these funny puffs of cloud began sort of dodging around the sky. You never know, I thought, maybe we’ll get a shower and that will cool things down.
    As we got back into our car and looked at the tour list, my sister said “Where do you want to go first? The Partington Ridge garden? That’s pretty close.”
    I will always feel like kicking myself for saying “No, let’s drive north and work our way back. That way we won’t have to keep backtracking.”

    The garden farthest north was the one at the Captain Cooper school, but we’d seen that the year before and also weren’t sure how well our car could make the climb, so we gave it a miss and went for the next stop, which along the river. It was beautiful down there, with the sun streaming down through the trees and the deep shadows, and here and there interesting bits of sculpture standing out on the forest floor. I took a photo of a rose sculpted of white marble with the sun lighting it up. We dawdled and took pictures for what must have been two hours, and it was beautiful but I was uneasily aware that even down there in the shadows under the redwoods, it was hot. Usually the gloom in a redwood grove is chilly. We crossed the bridge over the river and looked up, and all the open sky we could see had turned the color of a bad bruise.
    “That’s weird,” my sister said.
    “What, have we taken a wrong turn and wound up in Missouri?” I said, because it all looked and felt exactly the way it had when I’d been caught in a thunderstorm in Arrow Rock a couple of years previous.

    We got back on the highway and headed south to the next stop, which was up in Sycamore Canyon. We were grateful to see that this year the tour organizers had arranged a parking place at the side of the highway across from the Sycamore Canyon turnoff and a shuttle to take tourists in. Just as we pulled off onto the verge, there was a tremendous forked bolt of lightning striking almost due south.
    “Damn! I hope that didn’t hit near Nepenthe,” I said.
    A full shuttle was just leaving, so the ladies in charge at that stop very kindly offered us chairs under their sunshade and gave us bottled water. A few fat raindrops fell, instantly turning to doughballs in the powdery dust. The heat was stifling. The sky was dark, with bizarre-looking cloud patterns, though the sun was still hitting us from a band of blue sky to the west. I took a couple of photographs. One of the tour ladies got a call on her cell phone from her husband, who was a member of the fire brigade. She got off the phone and told us a fire had just started. A moment later a green fire truck came roaring up the hill, flying south. “There he goes,” said one of the ladies. We all stood and peered south, but we were looking uphill and nothing was visible yet.

    The shuttle arrived and we crowded in, but there was already a change to the tour: one of the garden locations belonged to a man with a local gardening show (I’m sorry I don’t remember his name) and he, being a member of the fire brigade too, had had to rush off to the fire. His house was still open for the tour, though, so on we went– not sure if the two gardens on this leg of the tour were up Pear Valley Road or Clear Ridge Road. We looked southeast and saw the first cloud of smoke rising from Partington Ridge, deceptively tiny-looking. The gardens were lovely but all anyone was talking about was the fire, and people were beginning to get frightened. By the time we got back up to the highway, the tour was pretty much officially canceled, so we got back in our car and headed back on 1. It was terrifying. Fire trucks passed us at high speed and you could see this titanic column of smoke boiling up into the sky from the ridge. People were pulled over at every turnout taking pictures of the flames, but we didn’t stop. At one point a helicopter hauling what looked like a huge inverted red balloon passed close over our car– I guess it was carrying seawater to the ridge.

    We got home at last and I got on the computer and pretty much remained glued to it for the next month, tracking the fire on various sites. The most frightening time was when Nepenthe moved their cameras around to show the fire coming across the ridges… it made me heartsick to see the ridges vanish in smoke, one by one, closer and closer to the camera.

    The strangest thing, in the aftermath, was driving south from Monterey this spring on 1 and passing the turnout at Sycamore Canyon, where we sat that day and heard the first reports coming in. It had seemed so far from the fire, but the mountainside to the east of the turnout had all been burned over in its turn. No more fires like that for another generation, Lord, please!

  5. The Basin Complex fire started the day before my husband’s memorial service. My brother, Paul and his wife, Maisie and I were sitting at Rocky Point Restaurant on the 21st having some lunch and talking about Mike and life (my mother had just passed away on the 31st of May, so there was a lot of “life” to talk about). All of a sudden, this huge streak of lightning hit the south coast. It was so huge that I thought it was at least 20′ across, but of course, there was no way to measure it. One of my friend’s wanted me to call off the service, but I just couldn’t. Our son, Andy, was flying in from Boulder and we just had to do the service. After a few phone calls to and from Sharon Carey and Trey we decided to go ahead. There were so many people that came to the service, I was overwhelmed. This community rallies around it’s members whether it’s because of a fire, mud slides, a memorial service for one of it’s members and sometimes just to have a lot of fun. We were evacuated on the 2nd of July and were able to return the 8th of July. It was two months to the day that Mike died. In that short period of time, my life changed, but because of all the good family and friends that I have, I survived. THANK YOU…….I just can’t believe it will be a year on Sunday.

  6. The Nepenthe web cam is my homepage. I think I first saw the fire Sunday morning the 22nd. That camera is my window to Big Sur and this web site it the voice. Thank you Kate.

  7. I love Big Sur, and I have your site as one of my favorites. I heard about the fire first from Mike Gilson, who e-mailed me about it, and asked if my property (over the hills, closer to Lockwood) was burning. I followed the bulletins on your site, and for me the lesson over the course of the next few weeks and months was how much the people who live in Big Sur seem to accept what nature may bring. The fact that the acceptance includes disasters like the fires gave me a new level of respect for the people who can experience it and still see it as a positive in some way. Thanks so much for your site.

  8. I left Carmel Valley Fire Dept at zero dark thirty and drove our OES Engine 312 to Big Sur. After an hour we (four engine crew members) received an assignment to protect Deetjens. We staged, worked and lived there-abouts for one week. During that time we kept busy “therma-gelling” bridges and clearing around several of the out buildings. We all got intimate with that Hwy 1 stretch between the HM library and Deetjens. What an important area to preserve! Though we kept busy the Helicopters did the lions share of the fire work. We saw homes rapidly burn and were frustrated that we could not save them.
    When our crew was relieved, I headed back to CV. I braced for the east extension of the Basin Complex at my own home in Tassajara/Jamesburg. I certainly gained an appreciation for my own fear and helplessness brought about during the Basin Fire. My empathy has increased. In Tassajara we mostly dodged the bullet. I am thankful for my home and in awe of the power (and heat) of fire.

  9. We left Oceanside on June 22, for our annual camping trip to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. We stopped overnight at Pismo Beach, and left around noon to head up the coast. We were all very excited to reach our camping spot to absorb the wonderful and very special environment that only Big Sur has. Right before Cambria we noticed a sign that said Highway 1 was closed about 70 miles ahead. We didn’t know what was going on, and began to realize that was very close to Big Sur. We went into Cambria to get some information, where we found out about the wildfires. We were stunned! We didn’t know what to do and ended up staying in Cambria for a couple of days. We ended up camping at Santa Margarita Lake near San Luis Obispo. My son and nephew were inconsolable. We had been looking forward all year to our trip, which we have been doing since my son was 3, (he’s now 15). Big Sur has always had a special place in our hearts. We phoned the state park daily for updates, hoping we might still be able to get there. We had no idea how extensive the fires were until later. Because of our wildfires in San Diego County in 2003 and 2007, we knew how horrible this situation was. Thank God for our firefighters…

  10. For me it’s like the day Kennedy was shot, or 911. I will never forget where I was and what I was doing that day.
    It was a beautiful day. I went to town early and on the way stopped to take pictures because it was so beautiful. The sky was so blue with big fluffy clouds to decorate it. It was hot. Too hot for what we are used to down here at coast level.
    I was having lunch in Monterey when the sky turned almost black. I watched as lightning bolts struck the hills in Pebble Beach & Pacific Grove. I knew …. I just knew, there would be a fire somewhere in Big Sur. It was so dry. How could we have escaped all those lightning strikes?
    I was surprised that I never heard sirens in town. Never saw smoke. But when I rounded the curve to Lighthouse Flats, there it was. The huge column of smoke. I stopped in a pull out just north of the Gallery and was surprised how many fire vehicles and people were already on scene. I took some shots and as I sat there watching the fire and all the people pulling over and getting in the way, I knew it was time to keep on heading south, get out of the way, and get home before they closed the road. They closed the road within an hour after I got home. I got some of the beginning shots from the north view of that knoll Kenny shot. If you would like me to send you a couple let me know.
    Even though homes & things were lost, no one died or got seriously hurt. That amazes me when you think of how dangerous this terrain is, how hot it was, and how over worked the fire crews were from the 1,000 plus fires there were in California from that one storm. And because of that, homes are being rebuilt, the redwood trees are sprouting new growth, the hills are covered with wildflowers in the spring and life continues on. And yes…thank God for all the firefighting men & women. From the coordinators in an office pushing papers down to the local who keeps a defensible space around their home.

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