An explanation and a reminder

I know I have been missing in action since the Jade Fire (my second in two weeks), but Voices of Monterey Bay’s founding editor, Joe Livernois, asked me to do a story on these winter fires and the role of climate change, a rather research intensive subject. I have loved doing it. I learned so much.

In doing my research, I went through some of the other articles I wrote for Voices on wildfire ( I cannot believe this new one is my 7th), and ran across one that seems so appropriate to repeat here, in light of the last few weeks. This is one I wrote in August of 2019 about a fire I barely remember.

“This fire was blessedly short, unlike the ones I cut my teeth on, so on Day Five of the Mill Fire I was able to post this on my blog:

“This will be the last day I provide updates on this fire, unless there is a drastic change. One of my neighbors stopped by and said, ‘They get an A+ on the way they handled this fire.’ Yes, they do. There are so many to thank for what they did, but I was not ‘on the line,’ so I may not know the whole story, but it seems to me, the ICs (Incident Commanders) on this fire for the first 3 days deserve a lot of credit. They are the ones making the decisions, putting in the request for resources, and leading the effort. There were 2 ICs for the Mill Fire for those first critical 3 days — Tony Zavalla was the day IC and the night IC was Pete Harris of the USFS Nacimiento Station. Tony & Pete, you both did a terrific job.”


Besides Tony and Pete, we had the most cooperative agreement I have seen in my 30 years down here — USFS, Big Sur Fire, Fort Hunter Liggett, and Cal Fire working in coordinated effort, like a well-oiled (and trained) machine. While good weather played no small part (no wind, fuels still moist), it is the professional men and women who put everything on the line each fire and each season that make the difference along with the dedicated volunteer professionals who worked side-by-side with them.

There are some lessons to be learned and shared from the Mill fire of 2019, and I hope they are. Working together there is nothing we can’t accomplish. Team Big Sur — I salute you and tip my hat to your long hard hours of training and perseverance, and for caring so much.

No one person can patrol all of Big Sur every night, but if we all chip in and do what we can, instead of waiting for some government agency to handle it, we can make a difference. Other neighborhoods have “neighborhood watches,” and we can establish neighborhood fire watches. Set up a meeting in your portion of Big Sur and set up fire patrols. Remember, polite and respectful works wonders with the uninformed.  Feeling empowered and feeling safe is a wonderful feeling.

This is our home. No one cares as much as we do, and no one takes care of it like we do. Let’s band together and take care of the problem. Education and knowledge are the answer. Educate in every contact you have with our visitors in a respectful manner. You will get the message across better if people listen and hear you, and they won’t listen if they are not being respected and honored. We got this, Big Sur.”

9 thoughts on “An explanation and a reminder

  1. Awesomely stated, Ms Kate!
    We are in a time, of becoming less dependant on big govt., not moreso, as they intend! Taking personal & collective action & responsibility as Community, is where we are going now. You are right on the mark, including the encouragement of using respectful language, instead of condemnation. Energy begets energy.

  2. Well written!!! We lost our mining cabin in a fire in the 1960’s up in the Los Burros Mining District. It was heartbreaking to lose it, but once a fire gets out of control, it takes a huge team of people to gain control in the rugged mountains of Big Sur. We always praised the Forest Rangers who kept us safe as best as possible. Great men and women, putting their lives on the line, that is dedication! Another fire that happened below Gorda, up in the mountain area was one of a marijuana forest that caught fire. They had to work mighty small shifts, the air made those fighting it stoned, against their will. Terrible fire to fight!

  3. Has anyone jumped on the idea of a Neighborhood Fire Watch?? Truly great idea. The Mill Fire and the Colorado Fire really prove that a coordinated effort among multiple agencies from the get go win the day.

  4. Great article Kate, and the gratitude for the front lines always bears repeating. As you pointed out, the Mill fire fighting effort did mark a huge shift in cooperation and response, after the initially inadequate response to the Soberanes Fire. I hope in your current or subsequent articles you weigh in on backyard burning—permitted or not, ( Colorado Fire 2022 Winter) it seems clear this is an antiquated practice grossly incompatible with our climate now.

  5. Hi Kate and All,

    Heads up that a weather pattern change is looking possible around the 20th of February. It appear a colder “inside slider” type system could be our first rains in quite some time? This is a ways out so speculative at this moment but from the looks of the real world global satellite changes are on the way. The pattern could become more progressive as we head into the beginning of March with more cooler air masses and light to moderate rain events as the larger Rossby Planetary waves (these are the main ribbons of air that make up the Westerlies-think roaring 40’s in south pacific) shift into better alignment with the Arctic Oscillation (AO) and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) moving into negative territory. The Pacific North American (PNA) teleconnection looks to be rather neutral but if moves toward positive with both NAO and AO teleconnections in negative would bring wetter warmer storms, however if the PNA stays toward negative the storms will be more cooler and drier.

    Nevertheless, the big climate talk-besides unprecedented dryness/fires around here- at the moment (at least in my mind) is the very warm equatorial oceanic kelvin wave (could be another warm kelvin wave behind it that would really push into El Nino territory!) that is now surfacing off the coast of Ecuador and Peru and displacing the cold plume of water that has supported our stubborn La Nina pattern and negative ENSO values that is probably the main reason California has been so dry recently. The warming appears to be “east based” more than “central east based” and this has shown in the past to be very supportive of a weakening of the North Pacific High and really ramps up the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) and Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) to spike in activity. This increase in atmospheric humidity and moisture levels around the equator feeds the storms that move into California while also weakening the easterly winds or the Walker Circulation. Moreover the weakening of the easterlies changes the thermocline dynamic that is now tipped toward warm in west equatorial pacific and cold in east equatorial pacific and shifts toward a more balanced thermocline with less temperature difference in the sea surface temperatures between the two sides of the equatorial Pacific ocean. This shift can take multiple years to establish but I’m hypothesizing we have started the shift now into this wetter winter regime and could even impact our weather in later March/early April and even into May this year with a very different feel than the dry very warm climate we have been experiencing for what seems forever. I have my fingers crossed!!

  6. Mother Nature, always in Charge.
    Our best, is to work ‘with her,’ rallying to her signals, stronger now than ever!

  7. Informative interview’s on both NPR & CAPRADIO, Summer 2021, say Gov. Newsome cut Fire Prevention funding.

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