Tackling the Wildfire Issue

This is the article I have been working on for Voices of Monterey Bay. It is quite long, so I will be breaking it up into parts, and reproducing here.

There is something that happens to me when the first whisper of fire hits my consciousness, no matter if it reaches me through my screen, my phone, or my senses. My reaction is the same. The adrenaline begins and I know my upcoming days, weeks, months are no longer my own. Big Sur had two fires in two weeks, both human-caused, in the middle of winter. We are not accustomed to this. This is not normal … or is it?

Fire. It is a way of life for all who live in Big Sur and other areas of California. The Wildland-Urban Interface, better known as the WUI, is a zone of transition between wildland (unoccupied land) and human development. Communities in the WUI are at risk of catastrophic wildfire. According to the Forest Service, as of 2010, almost one-third of the houses in California are in the Wildland-Urban Interface. 

In my mind there is no question that climate change is a factor in wildfires here in California and in Big Sur.

Jade Fire, photo by Caltrans

The Fires

On Jan. 21, 2022, the Colorado Fire broke out in Palo Colorado Canyon, caused by an escaped backyard burn (burn permits were rescinded the next day). The Colorado Fire was fed by offshore winds with gusts of 70-80 mph. By 8:30 p.m., I was getting reports and photos of how fast it was spreading — unbelievably fast — because of the winds. Fortunately, they blew away from the rest of the Palo Colorado Canyon community. Nevertheless, Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies were sent to knock on doors to deliver mandatory evacuation notices to more than 50 residents in the region.

“We have a home in the canyon that goes under the Bixby Bridge,” said Clay Jackson, a reader of my Big Sur Kate blog, a couple of days after that frightening night. “I was there self-isolating related to COVID since our daughter is expecting a second child very soon and also has a 2-year-old.

“The flames were easily visible on the ridge that goes into the Smith Ranch and up to the ‘glass house’ (at the top of the hill on the north side of Bixby Bridge). The wind appeared to be consistently in a west/southwest direction. Yesterday I was the only one still in the canyon. Had to drive to Big Sur to get cell coverage to call my family. No other cars on the road there which was a bit eerie.”

In his email, Jackson continued: “At about 5 p.m. I was coming back from a walk and two incredibly friendly police officers had tagged the area and our home and advised me of the mandatory evacuation. I ate as much of the remaining coffee ice cream as I could as it was melting! Packed up and left. During the day Cal Fire helicopters flew over our home at least 100 times … Small flickering flames were visible on the east side of Highway 1. Once again I was the only one on the road heading north to the road closure point.”

At around 7 a.m. on Feb. 2, 2022, just shy of two weeks from when it started, Cal Fire declared the Colorado Fire 100% contained at 687. An hour later, my son and several other South Coast locals were fighting a brush fire on the southern end of Big Sur, in a eucalyptus grove just south of Jade Cove.

Big Sur Fire was the first agency on scene and the U.S. Forest Service arrived shortly thereafter. This fire was from a smoldering campfire that had been abandoned. The Jade Fire, as it was named, was contained around noon at around 2-3 acres.

Crews from USFS stayed on site all night and most of the next day to be sure it was completely out.

The Jade Fire had three significant advantages. It had the Pacific Ocean on one side and Highway 1 on the other, both excellent fire breaks. It also started in the morning, so crews had the advantage of daylight to fight the fire. The winds that morning were quiet.

Had there not been the Colorado Fire in close time proximity, this fire would have received no attention at all, but it was only Feb. 2, and Big Sur, known for not just her spectacular landscape but also her spectacular fires, had experienced two fires in the middle of winter.


‘These recent fires along the Big Sur coast are another vivid reminder that fire season
is year-round.

  • Andrew Marsden of the U.S. Forest Service

(To be continued)

If you don’t want to wait until tomorrow, you can read the rest of the article here