Lessons from Portugal

Last Saturday night,  a devastating wildfire broke out in Portugal. This region is serviced by a winding, mountainous road. 62 people are confirmed dead. The fire started on Saturday night, and by Sunday morning was out of control.


Portugal’s central region continues to burn as firefighters battle a deadly inferno, which has killed at least 62 people to date. Sources say that over half these people died in or around their vehicles as they tried to escape the fire on a windy, mountainous road.

The blaze that erupted in the municipality of Pedrógão Grandeas. Wildfires are very unpredictable, firefighting experts say, especially when high temperatures, low humidity and a particularly dry landscape create a vast tinderbox in large wooded areas.

On the South Coast of Big Sur, one campfire may have started a wildfire on Nacimiento Rd. last week, although the cause of the fire is still under investigation. And Sunday, I found a group of campers having a campfire in the middle of an open dry, grassy field disregarding a large no campfire sign they had passed only about 100 yards before the place they chose to camp.

In only 3 days, we will experience the anniversary of the start of the Basin Fire. June 22, 2008, a series of lightning strikes started several wildfires which became the Basin Fire. People, particularly visitors, were able to evacuate in three directions, north, south, and east. This summer that is not true.

Businesses and Chambers of Commerce all up and down the Central Coast are pushing to allow visitors into the areas of Big Sur that are cut off with the only escape routes being a long and difficult pedestrian only trail from the TapHouse to the State Park, or a very narrow, windy mountainous road over the Santa Lucia’s to the east.

Personally, I am concerned about the advisability of this short-sighted solution given the fire conditions we currently have before the end of June, and what is surely ahead. More people mean we increase the chance of man created wildfire, as well as complicate in dangerous ways any need to evacuate tourists and residents. We are facing potentially, the perfect storm of conditions ripe for a wild fire. Grasses are tall due to the rainy winter, they are dried out, the heat wave has been and will be ongoing. I hope there will be no need to evacuate by any of us, but if there is, can we minimize the danger to those of us trapped between the bridge and Mud Creek? Or will we be facing a massive traffic exodus on a road not designed for that purpose? How will emergency vehicles get here, if the road is filled with fleeing visitors? I think these are serious questions we all need to address, particularly our federal, state, and local representatives and agencies.


There are lessons to be learned from what is happening in Portugal. I hope we can learn them in time.

Campers with Campfire

Sunday morning, I went down the mountain to the coast to get my mail and saw people having a campfire. I didn’t think to get a photo of the campfire as I was completely flummoxed. I did report them to the USFS, as I found several at the station. So, on the way home, glad to see the campfire was out, I got photos.


They drove by this sign just about 100 yards before the area where they made camp. (Sorry for the dirty windshield, but that’s what happens out here.)


These were the two vehicles. Look at all that dry grass.


This shows their tents, the wood they had gathered for their fire, in the branch out in front of the orange ten, and the campfire was right on the other side of that large log, dragged out presumably to sit on. Again, note all that dry grass around their campsite.


This shows a whole lot of trash, which to their credit they did pack up and take with them, I am told. The two guys are watching me photograph them, and the two gals are to the right of them, shown in the next photo. Again, lots of dry grass.


Not wanting to be photographed, it would appear. Now these campers were polite and did put out their fire when I pointed out the error of their ways, and they did clean up their trash. But I still can’t understand why they felt it was okay to have a campfire when it was so hot and they were camped in the grass – regardless of the sign. I vow to have a dialogue the next time so I can understand the mentality, and maybe find a way to change that.