“The Central Coast is burning down,” laments Susie Bright in her daily blog on June 25. “Big Sur has been on the edge of destruction since the weekend : The air is orange and choking gray with smoke, the heat like an iron:.
“I can’t tell you how this is going to end. Local residents and Forest Service people are going at it with their bare hands, bulldozing everything in sight to defend their homes. Everyone is primed to evacuate, if they haven’t been already; all are displaced.”
The longtime feminist activist and host of a weekly radio program entitled In Bed with Susie Bright knows the Big Sur coast well and is saddened by what she worries will be the destruction of a community that nurtured the likes of Henry Miller and Robinson Jeffers, countless Beat Generation artists, writers, and poets, as well as its influence on psychotherapy, modern architecture, and nature photography.
The fires began on Saturday, June 21, a bit before 1 p.m. when a thunder cell moved onshore just south of Big Sur. The lightning strikes sparked three new fires. Two of them, eventually dubbed the Gallery and Basin fires, immediately took off.
The statistics are easy to rattle off: the total amounts of acreage burned, firefighters on the scene, numbers of engines and aircraft rise steadily. Despite massive efforts, by June 25 the fires have merged to form one large chunk of burning wilderness that is slowly expanding outward into the interior, the flames working their way north toward Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, northeast toward Tassajara Hot Springs, and southeast up the north and south forks of the Big Sur River.
For those who love this wilderness and are concerned about which parts are burning, by now the fire has eaten its way through Sykes Camp and the hot springs, burned up over the top of the Ventana Double Cones, and is threatening to make an end run north around the backside of Mount Manuel.
This morning’s press release from Kathy Good, the Forest Service PIO (Sunday, June 29), does not bode well. Late Saturday night the fire had been extremely active, burning to the north, south, and to the east. In short, it is expanding in all directions into the interior. With the terrain being extremely steep and the chaparral loaded with dead or drying fuels, the fire is expected to continue to burn actively towards the Palo Colorado community which is located north of Big Sur.
Looking at the map it is easy to see that much of the area that is burning is inside the Ventana Wilderness where there are no roads, no easy access, and very few safety zones from which firefighters might be able to work directly on the advancing flames.
It is possible before this fire is out that most of the Ventana Wilderness will be charred, similar to what occurred with the Zaca Fire last year and the Day Fire the year before. The difference here, though, is that both hundreds of houses and a way of life that has been built up over the past century may be at stake.