51 thoughts on “Tourists Still Lighting Illegal Campfires in Big Sur

  1. Yes, Cal, it is. Some people keep commenting about the Chimney and the Soberanes Fires coming together – a fire here could make that happen.

  2. Where are the enforcers? The State Park rangers, the US Forest service rangers, California State beach life guards, Fish and game officers, as well as County Sherriffs and their deputies are all licensed to act as enforcers. All of them can give tickets or arrest people. Where are they????

  3. PS, especially since the state parks are closed! Where are these public servants???

  4. Page, most of them do not leave the hiway, and those that do rarely hike. The USFS has left it to the Ventana Wilderness Alliance to take care of the trails, improve them and keep them clear. It might just be up to them to patrol, as well, as Keith just did.


  5. AND Page, when we close entire areas like the trails north of Nacimiento, and all the State Parks, people will find somewhere else to go – and that is down here on the South Coast, where we haven’t burned up yet this year.


  6. Living a mile south of Salmon Creek, on West side Hwy.1.
    Amazing that people don’t notice Fires’ smell, along with the lite white ash flakes falling from our Burning Mountains to Terra Firma.
    Love sharing the Beauty, hate seeing disregard for Mother Nature and all of us creatures by NOT HAVING FIRES while the world around you is burning or smoldering.

    Somemores’ – eat the Chocolate, gram -Crackers and Marshmallows cold, save a Tree and maybe an other Life.
    Think Tourists, Think!.

    To quote a famous Bear….

    Give them Hell Smokeybear!!!.

  7. It is time for all of us to ban together to turn in these bad actors to the authorities. If you see an illegal campfire, report it. You, too, can prevent forest fires.

  8. How about making and posting signs all along the coast: No Camping No fires. Offenders will be prosecuted, etc.?

  9. Oh, for God’s sake, what don’t they understand? It just boggles my mind. Does anyone have common sense anymore? OK, the state parks are closed…that doesn’t give leave to camp any old place. Enforcement is nearly impossible given the resources. I’m not a vigilante type, but maybe that’s the only solution. Thank you, Kate. I’ve read your posts first thing every morning since Soberanes Fire began a month ago off a much beloved hiking trail for us in our younger days. We’ve lived in Corral de Tierra off Hwy. 68 for 40 years, but Big Sur has been our true love since the ’60s when we lived in the Bay Area and camped at Pfeiffer, Molera (when you had to walk in) and Plaskett Creek. Starting in the mid ’70s we had the good fortune of making several Big Sur friends, and “graduated” to staying in their cabins at Ripplewood, above Ventana (burned in Basin Fire, now rebuilt) and down South Coast on Gorda Mtn. Stay safe and thanks again, Kate.

  10. How can people be so stupid and/or disrespectful?????????? I’m flabbergasted and so disappointed in these people!

  11. Upon coming down the coast last week, friends of mine spotted two cars at a turnout with their doors open together trying to conceal a Habichi being used!!!! Right near the entrance to the Sobranes trail!….Where do you supposed they were going to dump their hot coals…fortunately, my friends spotted firefighters and reported them. Unbelievable!….

  12. It would be cheaper for the State or who ever to pay to patrol the Forest…right? Rather than a state of emergency….

  13. This will not be well received. Fires happen. Could have been from a lightning strike. From a chain saw. Fire is the natural cycle of the forest. Redwood trees only propagate through fire. It clears the under brush. There is a long running discussion in the forestry service about allowing large forest fires run their course. This will happen from now on out as the fire moves south and east to Nacimiento. It will not move any further South than Hunter Liggett. That will not happen.

    Big Sur is not just Nepenthe or Deetjens. The Little River Inn. The Big Sur of Henry Miller, Neal Cassady and an entire cast of pioneers up to the Fassetts.

    Big Sur extends from the northern reach of Santa Lucia Range in San Carlos Ranch to Nacimiento. The entire Santa Lucia Range in Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest. From the coast to Tassajara. The US Forest Service and regional powers are about to assume command structure.

    Blaming someone for an illegal fire will not make anyone whole again. It may cleanse your soul. Big Sur is about freedom.

    The tragedy and the goal is to protect homes and life. That is what has been the heroic effort of 5500 dedicated and brave fire fighters. With an invisible complex command structure that you never see. The IC commanders.

    What Kate has done is beyond invaluable! All the public news sources have been nearly worthless.

  14. To Phillip: most fires are not part of the natural cycle or by humans passing gas! It is cause by human stupidity and man made machines and bullets hitting things, n\and houses catching fire, etc …

    Fire by lightning … OK.
    All others … no justifications for them.

  15. Philip, I don’t have the time or the energy to point out the many fallacies in your arguments, but if Chimney calms down tomorrow, will do.


  16. gee, I see lots of folks thinking vigilantism could be a productive avenue, but few or none willing to step up. asking the feds to step up isn’t a near-term solution to anything, the feds aren’t like that, certainly not at any decision or administrative level. so, golly, what to do when folks, or let me change that to clueless, stupid folks, are willing ready and doing it endanger our homes? well, heck, I’ll throw my hat in the ring for some drive-around vigilantism, sign me up, please! 5 or 6 good, tough men, some firefighting equipment, good camera coverage for social media, a can of whup-ass opened… betcha a change could be initiated. I’ll go there, who will join?

    sorry if this offends some people, but I’ve been way too close to really big flames trying to save my life and resources ( it worked ) for BS and group hugs to matter much to me anymore. I’d rather beat a few stupid people than 100 ft flames at close range, voice of experience….

  17. I would not be to quick to condemn Dr. Miller’s comments. I believe he is attempting to address a very complex aspect of wildfire management that has been an issue for as long as we have inhabited these areas. I myself have thought once or twice about including it in the discussion here but ultimately decided it wasn’t the time or place.
    I can’t speak specifically for the Central Coast, but for much of California, wildfires aren’t as simple as natural (lightning) vs. Man-made. There is a give and take. It’s easy to say “if it’s natural let it burn and if man-made put it out,” but we can’t do that. Many naturally occurring fires threaten homes and other infrastructure and are quickly suppressed in order to save structures and lives. This suppression is unnatural and leaves extra fuel behind that would have burned. As this is repeatedly done more and more fuel piles up. This in turn encourages fire growth and leads to more severe fires when they do happen. If we (humans) weren’t interrupting the natural cycle of things in the first place many of these fires would race through the understory, quickly burning the little dead fuel they found, and move on doing little damage to the living ecosystem. Many in places such as Alaska (roughly 3-6 million acres burn each summer) criticize California and the Southwest for the way they handle their fires, but obviously the answer is not let it burn even if it takes homes. What can be done is to raise awareness so that those living in at risk areas can properly manage the fuel load around them and help to offset the interference their presence has imposed on the natural cycle of that ecosystem.

  18. It only takes one or two people not tuning in. And it always takes extra effort to get that last one or two to cooperate. Given that we cannot afford yet another fire, coupled with how much time is left in the season, are there some practical steps that can be taken?

    1) working with law enforcement to encourage patrols. Or perhaps a presence at major trailheads, such as salmon creek?

    2) if uniformed personnel can’t set up at trailheads perhaps a civilian presence of volunteers, working in shifts, informing any would be hikers/campers of the situation. If they get any static the civilian patrol starts taking license plates and calling it in.

    3) SIGNAGE! I am evacuated from the area but can the signage be improved? Every trailhead needs signage to maximize compliance.

    One thing for sure… This will keep happening unless we get way proactive. Hikers will rationalize that it won’t be their fire that gets out of control. Its as simple as that.

  19. Oh yeah. Also don’t light things on fire that shouldn’t be lit! Just sayin’

  20. there were signs at the trail head for the Soberanes. Signs do little if anything, IMHO. I’ve watched people tear down fences, pull out deeply buried round posts 5-6 across, tear down or run over signs … Patrolling and fines and shaming, publicly is what may work. I once posted photos of some hang gliders who had left tp and other disgusting evidence every where around their camp. They were still there. I took photos and posted it. THEIR hang gliding community recognized the vehicles, and took matters into their own hands.


  21. To Phillip: I believe that Sequoias need fire to propagate. The Coast Redwoods do not and it is the Coast Redwoods with which we are dealing in our Big Sur Area.

  22. indeed, what JA says is true. Nature is designed to burn regularly, and it is our infrastructure that is at issue in general, occasionally our lives as we struggle to defend that infrastructure. I completely agree about the buildup of fuels and fire suppression, wildlands etc.

    our infrastructure needs to be much better integrated into the natural cycles and systems, clearly

    but that does not give license to fools to behave in unsafe ways that endanger others.

    so to speak they are welcome to play with guns, they are NOT welcome to point them at me as they play with them

    I support camping. I have camped plenty. go ahead, be sensible and bury your waste. have a campfire during the dry season? nah, not allowed, no discussion necessary.

    I do not hear JA defending illegal campfires, nobody is defending illegal campfires except the people who are having them.

    so, what to do? post on blogs? gee, umm, well, that’d sure teach those silly folks a lesson, eh? has certainly worked so far….

    so, again, what to do? now, this week, next week, soon? someday?

    shovel the remains of the fire we just put out into their car? no physical harm, just a thoughtful lesson maybe?

    what we’re doing so far ( tasking the overworked Forest Service employees and wringing our hands ) is not working. maybe something else now?

    actual suggestions anyone?

  23. I welcome lightning fires, but I have no patience for careless man made fires. The penalty needs to pack enough of a punch that people respond. How about getting whatever approval is required for signs posted at key locations saying: $5000 FINE FOR ILLEGAL CAMPFIRES and then we initiate patrols as Richard suggests with photographers for documentation and we patrol in groups prepared to make citizen arrests. I think the word would get out.

  24. I came through Big Sur on my bike trip last month, I had planned to stay at Andrew Molera or Pfeiffer States Park, exactly the day the closed down the parks. I ended up going on the same day all the way to Kirk Creek Campground. It became a hell of a long day. But I thought if they close these parks they don’t want people stay in the area getting into the way of the fire operations, so I’d rather clear out. Of course when you bike pack it is possible that you have to camp out, because 30 miles more is a big deal, it could be more than you can tackle that day. But then given the situation and how dry everything is down there, you would not light a fire. Isn’t that obvious? During the entire trip I never lit a fire nor used my stove when I camped out, I don’t want to have a big burn on my mind, much less getting caught in one somewhere out there.

  25. When the Gaurdian Angels started patrolling the subways of NYC wearing their red berets and jackets crime dropped significantly. Vigilante groups work, lets do it!

  26. This is a comment from Amy Essick that she was unable to post herself and she asked me to do so for her.
    “Many of the visitors to our area do not know how to be-have in nature, as discussed. Monterey County is blessed with large amounts of gorgeous natural beauty. It is too much to expect at this time of our government’s budget choices, that there will be enough paid staff alone to patrol and educate the visitors. The tipping point is clearly here and we are in a state of emergency for creating a culture of teaching others how to care for our local environment. Some type of formal entity needs to be organized that brings all of us together to create a plan of action to teach others how to preserve our natural areas. There are models from other successful public programs that could be adapted here, e.g., NYC’s “Broken Windows Theory” program that combated graffiti -adapted to the increasing graffiti on the rocks? A unified attractive message with pictures (no there is no language barrier) could be created to share via social media, on signs (so the message can be pointed to), in tourist press with the tourist and visitors bureau, posted at local businesses- and through volunteers at trailheads, beaches-all the places we want to protect. It will take all of us who care to take the initiative to teach these folks who are blatantly showing us they do not know: kindly and firmly telling them Monterey County residents do not want them to have illegal campfires or go off trail or take the starfish back to their hotel room to die, etc. It has to become a concentrated community effort to change our culture to actively teach the visitors that this is a No Tolerance Zone for vandalizing our natural areas. We have a new Supervisor for District 5, which includes Carmel Valley and Big Sur; we can hope that a new vision for partnership exists in creating solutions to this massive problem. At this point, we need to try everything – from signs to volunteer patrols to community non profits getting involved with educational programming- to find what works and where. Sadly, this is going on in other beautiful places in the world and we can learn from other programs. All I know is our collective passion and wisdom for nature can create something better than what we have now.”

  27. Well said, Amy. Now is the time to enlist our new Supervisor in this effort. Strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.

  28. I reply from my home in Paris, where I worry a lot about my family on Partington Ridge. Fire is such a great risk along the coast not just to people but to the flora and fauna, to magnificent scenery and to the environment as a whole particularly in this age of ongoing and growing drought.

    I fear that there will always be the wilful, the twisted and the deranged pyromaniac, but ignorance can’t be pleaded and the careless need to know that the penalty for setting light to the area will be as extreem as their act. I would go as far as looking at a life sentence for lighting an illegal fire. Harsh? Not as harsh as being burnt alive.

  29. 90% of the ~60,000 – 70,000 fires in the US yearly are started by humans.

    The biggest suspect of any fire started near a road (not directly related to a car accident) is cigarette butts.

    As for campfires, I’d like to share my humble opinion as a camper in California. I’m cautious and considerate AND I rarely get to camp because there are so few available places relative to the number of people who want to camp. Unlike me, many others say, “screw it, I’m camping anyway.”

    So, my likely unpopular suggestion is to create more campgrounds. Places that can be kept trimmed to avoid the overgrowth of nearby kindling, with well-built protective fire pits. Along with posted step-by-step instructions at each site on how to put out a fire. (I’ve never seen instructions at a campsite! Tourists who may have never camped before are expected to just know how to do this properly?!)

    In my experience, It’s difficult to put out a fire with water at a camp ground. I usually only have my pots and cups and have to make about 10 trips back and forth to a water spot usually a bit of a walk away. Not so many campers are willing to put in that much effort. If you want people to put out there fires make it easy.

    Campsites currently almost always come with a picnic table and fire pit. Add the shovel. It’s a marked area near the pit with a chained shovel, long enough to reach the pit. The camper digs up dirt to put out the fire, following provided instructions on how to mix it all around and make sure it’s out. The dirt can be shoveled back out to the designated spot by the site ranger when inspected to make sure the fire is completely out.

    As for the inevitable trash that people leave everywhere… offer $5 back on their camp fee for every full bag of trash they bring out when leaving, along with before and after pictures of the site they clean up (so they don’t just bring trash with them). They can pick it up anywhere they visit during their stay, it doesn’t have to be at their campsite.

    I already follow the rule, “Leave it cleaner than when you arrived.” I would LOVE to be monetarily rewarded for my responsibility – especially since I’m strapped for funds and have to save up for recreational trips. I would bring a trash bag to the beach with me. There are lots of others like me.

    Who pays for this? Well… this may be unpopular with the locals, but my feeling is that glorious places like Big Sur belong to the world and everyone should have the privelege to visit, at least at designated portions. Those with the great fortune and monetary means to live in such an amazing area daily, might be willing to pay a bit extra to find ways to keep their home safe?

    And raise the camping fees if necessary… but be sure to provide an explanation of where the money is invested.

    As for the illegal fires… is there anyone in the area who files a little private plane? Pay them to do a pass each night to report the locations of fires outside of designated places? Rumor will get around that the area is patrolled by air (post signs saying as much) and that will discourage the illegal fires (when this is actually followed through on).


  30. Excellent discussion! Would the most effective detererent be to create a volunteer group that stationed a person or two at every trailhead to educate as many people as possible? One hurdle would be how to offset potential aggressive responses. Also training would be needed on how to approach people in a positive and non-threatening way and how to deflect hostile behavior. A lot of work and responsibility for volunteers.
    Hoping there will be a more coordinated effort to educate all visitors to the Big Sur area and Hwy 1 corridor in the future. Signage alone is certainly not enough.

    Continued thanks to Kate for providing fire information and this platform for discussion. I have checked your blog every single day, to track the fire during my evacuation and now back home in the heavy smoke, worrying about others who may still be affected. You provide vital information that make this very scary time bearable for so many of us, as well as keeping friends and families not in this area informed.

    I will be eternally grateful to all the firefighters and those who are coordinating their efforts for saving our communities on all sides of the fire. Praying that no more homes are lost, and that threatened areas will be protected and saved as White Rock was. I know there is no consolation for those who lost their homes, just prayers and hope for rebuilding, and the support from this very special community.

  31. I agree Kim, excellent discussion. To take it further, with technology the way it is AND with some tech folks who have a vested interest in Big Sur, Carmel Valley and the areas, how can technology, ie., cameras that stream to the authorities, 911 etc. be used? Homes are using cameras to check on children, pets, parents at home and property, other countries have cameras mounted which have been extremely useful in identifying problems, why can’t Nature benefit from this? I’d be afraid to have volunteers posted dealing with these people and I agree, asking agencies which are already stretched to pieces and budget cuts, etc. is not working. Perhaps a combination of things. One thing we all agree on, however, is that the system that has been used is not working and something different needs to be done. I’m glad you have a new Board of Supervisor, start a committee of interested citizens to brainstorm. Someone said this past week or so about where is Smokey the Bear through this, well maybe educating people about fires again is needed. The 50’s kids are long grown up and I for one learned a lot with the fire education programs. They seem to be absent. When safe, I agree educating people if you see someone with a hibachi on the side of the road, and you are not putting yourself at peril, telling them, taking pictures and calling 911. A sense of community with a multi-prong approach would go very far, I really like everyone’s ideas! And Mike, you’re right, only a small portion will step up but hey, all we need is a small group but I have to say if every person did one tiny thing whether it be write letters to the Editor, make calls to politicians, meet with the Board of Supervisor, write a letter, whatever, imagine how much of a different it could make. Just saying…

  32. later: I wrote my own sentiments to the entire Board of Supervisors, Monterey County. You can find it located on the Board’s site but I wrote the entire Board: COB@co.monterey.ca.us. I did not know who the Supervisor was for this area and the locals would know more of who were the best people to reach but there are power in numbers as we all know. I encourage you to write, call everyone you can with your great ideas. It COULD prevent problems down the road. I concentrated on fire prevention campaigns, forming a citizen advisor board NOW, using technology and cameras, publicizing numbers to call, providing deterrents and involving law enforcement by their presence AND financing more funds for these personnel as we simply cannot afford NOT to make changes now.

  33. yes ,We do need to do something and how to organize more education for visiters is a group thing. How is tricky. Even the school kids could have how to respect the wilderness in one of their classes, maybe each grade a couple times a year informative and fun. When I stop and tell the road campers its really not ok to have fires,even in rainy season etc. ect. the reluctant ones i remind them there is a big big fine for doing so,making up some number. So I wonder what is the fine for this? Can we do a non-offical person thing like turning in licience plate numbers to the police? Calling 911 is all fine and well but I will continue to help them put their fires out. The police helpers are often far away,it is a big coast! How about hiking permits with info. given and sign in pads? It might help a little. I will help if a group wants to come together on this.

  34. Shortly after the first Xasauan Today post about the bad and the ugly at Salmon Creek, several uniformed Volunteer Wilderness Rangers completed a patrol there. This was about a week or so after the Soberanes Fire began. They packed out trash, removed fire rings and attempted to erase some of the graffiti left behind by previous visitors. They also encountered a group of five young people from Oakland who had a morning campfire. Utilizing their training on the proper way to engage the public, they calmly educated the visitors about the extreme danger posed by their illegal fire. (I admit I’d have a hard time being calm and polite in such a situation.) The visitors from Oakland were immediately contrite and took immediate action to drown their campfire and remove the fire ring. They were so remorseful and penitent that they went back to the Rangers to apologize several times that morning. The Rangers had to ask, “Did you notice the intense smoke when you drove south? Did you know that the fire was started by an illegal campfire?” They answered “yes” yet did not know that their own fire was illegal! Mind boggling! I guess the point of this story is that educating the public is essential to fire safety in Big Sur. Signage, where appropriate, will help. But getting boots on the ground and interacting with visitors directly is most effective. And cleanup is essential. When trash, fire rings, toilet paper and graffiti are left behind, subsequent visitors may look at it as tacit approval for further trashing of the place. That’s why fire ring removal is especially important. The obvious solution is dramatically increased funding for field staffing at California State Parks and the US Forest Service. We must work together to make that happen. It is not going to be easy. Until that time, the Ventana Wilderness Alliance will continue to fund the Volunteer Wilderness Ranger program. The Rangers, vetted and trained by the US Forest Service, do a great job but they can only do so much. For example, they cannot do enforcement. Many who love the Big Sur community and our public wildlands feel that the situation is out of control. Without proper visitor management, that feeling will not go away.

  35. Excellent points Richard, I encourage you to write/call the people you feel need to know to run this thing and ask them what can we all do to help them get the funding they need? These are great ideas from everyone. It’s a great start, keep it going!

  36. I am with Mike Gilson and Richard Wango and am willing to do what ever it takes to handle this situation so I will be in touch with the two of you very soon. I would really like to thank all of you for such great information that the media could have never done so well all of you are great in my book. We all may have different opinions but thats what makes us who we are, it’s just great to see everyone pulling together in times of need. I wish the rest of America could see how this has worked so well maybe they could do the same.

  37. Good story re: the VWA Rangers. It’s great they can do that and school the clueless re: how to treat the place they came to enjoy.
    Taking this discussion to another level: as the USFS becomes the recipient of properties donated by people who would like to see the land they love kept in perpetuity for the public to use and enjoy (via BSLT, State Parks, etc) perhaps the people who will really take care of it are the ones who own it and live on it. This will keep the community intact, care for the land, pay taxes (who can help fund the salaries of the park rangers to patrol the lands owned by the parks) and volunteer for the BSVFB!

  38. chimming in to agree with some of the ideas brought up:

    an online, self serve, quota based, permit system is an excellent idea. force permit applicants to see a web presentation about fire restrictions before they get a permit. optionally collect licensee plate nbrs from permit applicants. rangers can ask campers for their permits.

    expand use of social media and web to educate public about fire danger and back country etiquette.

    install web cameras, and even license plate readers at trail heads.

    expand volunteer ranger programs. sign me up for that.

    fund park improvements using FasTrak style electronic toll “booths” (locals paying reduced fee of course). rental car companies can supply tracker device and collect fees from clients. local convenience stores can sell and register devices as well.

  39. Margaret, Jim, great ideas! how about writing the powers to be about those ideas? I did receive a note back from the Clerk of the Monterey Board of Supervisors acknowledging they received my letter and that all Board of Sups will see my letter. Power in numbers, these ideas are too good not to be shared. I encourage to write and share with those who are in a decision making position. You are awesome, all of you!

  40. yeah, hey, lovely all that.

    I have no intention and even less interest in talking to anyone at a desk. they are neither the problem or the solution at short time range. i will encourage other, socially graceful people to travel that path, bon voyage!

    I am more interested in umm, speaking with the people who are lighting illegal campfires. now, soon, presently.

    even more I am interested in speaking with local residents who are on the ground and have experience dealing with these fools. let us meet and speak reality, please. south coasters, yo!

    all else is not NOW, and now is when we have a problem

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