Fire at Sand Dollar Beach


From Susan Perry of Pacific Valley School:

“I had just signed out from work at 11:35pm, was walking through the school’s K room to use the b-room b4 my long drive home, and saw huge, tall, flames just to the right of my view of the school’s wooden fence enclosed recycling yard.  I couldn’t tell if the fire was on the east or west side of the highway, but immediately ran down to the lower buildings to confirm that no one was aware of the fire, or at least not trying to extinguish it.  On the way down there I was able to see that it was across the highway and appeared to be right by the entrance to the Sand Dollar day use parking area, possibly under or in the cypress trees by the gate.

I ran to Carl’s room (the southern-most lower classroom, where he sleeps), banging on his door as I unlocked it and woke him up with my laryngitis frog throat screaming as loud as I could to wake up and call 911 so I could run to the office and call Joel & Brooke and then round up our school’s fire hoses.  I ran up the ramp while screaming across the creek to wake up Parks Management staff.  I then ran around looking everywhere I could think to look for those hoses, but never found them.

I gave up looking for the hoses and ran back towards the fire just as several trucks with Parks Management staff pulled up outside the day use parking area.  It was then that I could see that the lot’s gate shack was totally engulfed and that there were no trees or bushes involved, just the structure.  One staff member told me that she had locked the gate shack earlier in the evening, after placing the American flag that hangs outside the shack during the day, inside it for the night.  […It appears that] the fire …[may have been] started intentionally because the flag had been removed from the shack before the fire started and placed into the hole in the top of an orange traffic cone 15 to 20 feet away from the shack.

Brooke and Joel showed up at the fire a few minutes after I had returned from the office with my phone so I could take some pictures.  It was then that someone noticed that the large wooden Parks Management sign had been cut free from its posts near the shack and removed, perhaps tossed into the shack to be burned.

Two off duty USFS staff members then showed up in their personal vehicles, still in PJ’s, to attack the fire with the shovels that Brooke & Joel and thought to bring with them.  The USFS staff said that, even though Carl had reported our physical address to 911 and gave them the name of the school and the Sand Dollar Day Use Area, they never got a call from anyone.  They only learned of the fire when a tourist driving by saw the fire and drove into the Pacific Valley USFS Station and woke them up to report the fire in person.   They first called Monterey Dispatch and then their fire captain, who is out of town, and he told them not to use the engine but to call him if the fire threatened to head toward wildland (to the east) and he would return for duty, and to command the engine.  Monterey dispatch apparently had not called out anyone to respond and asked the USFS guys who they should contact to respond to the fire.  (DUH!)  “Call Big Sur Fire” was their response to the dispatch person, of course.

At some point, while we watched the fire, Joel claimed that he heard what sounded like someone shooting a 22 to the north of us, somewhere along the cliffs or the fields along the bluffs.

Obviously, we were lucky with this one, but why didn’t dispatch place a call out?  Why couldn’t I find the school fire hoses?  What will we do on the south coast if no one responds to a wild fire that starts here?  Thank you to Brook, Joel, Caleb and Mike Handy (I think it’s him, maybe Luke?) for getting training to fill that gap, soon, I hope!

Feel free to share this accounting of this event with whomever you wish, wherever it needs to be shared.


Susan Perry, Administrative Assistant

Big Sur Unified School District & Pacific Valley School

Here is this morning’s photo by Paolo Gonzalez: