BIG SUR~Pfeiffer Fire~~Days 2, 3

The Big Sur Pfeiffer Ridge/Sycamore Canyon Fire ~~ 2nd Day ~3rd Day



“Winds were expected to be calm during the day, and there was a 20 percent chance of rain at night, according to the National Weather Service.

The slow-moving Pfeiffer Fire in Los Padres National Forest near state Highway 1 had consumed 769 acres, or a little over a square mile, Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen said Wednesday.

Authorities said that as of mid-morning Wednesday the fire was 40 percent contained. Full containment was expected by late Friday.

” “We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get this nailed down by then,” Madsen said. “We have temperatures going down as a cold front has come in and cooled things down dramatically.” “

UPDATE ~~ WEDNESDAY 9:50 AM (From a Big Sur local:    “The Salvation Army and Red Cross do not need clothing or toys at this time for Big Sur residents. They have an abundance of these items, but have suggested that we make financial donations directly to the families in need.”

There’s no suggestion how to go about that, possibly call the Ranger Station in Big Sur, or Ventana for more information. I’ll try to find out the hows and wherefores and post that.




“5:00 pm – went to the (Big Sur Community) meeting. Basic facts are 769 acres, 20% contained, full containment expected by Friday. 24 structures lost. We are expecting winds starting tomorrow night, but hopefully it won’t create any problems. Saw Celia at the meeting, and CPOA quietly gave checks to those confirmed to have lost houses.”

Rain is expected on Wednesday and Thursday. There’s not much else to report right now.

For those who do not know Big Sur by touch and smell, for those not longing for its mystic land in their dreams, it may seem a lot of fuss over abstract acres. They are anything but that. Some combination of things…the ancient twisted purple lavendar, the sea-air-tortured silhouette of black-green cypress, massive potent bay leaf, the wild ginger and stream-side calla lilies, wet loam, the endless blue Pacific and its sculpting of monolithic boulders at Pfeiffer’s pink sanded shore, the dark crevice hiding huge greeny brilliant fern, white peeling sycamore, the redwood tall or felled by wind….shapes of pre-history….all these things work deeper into us than just the heart and brain alone, to the visitors, moreso the residents. Every day is a challenge to be equal to its parts in Big Sur.  It is this that scorching flame so injures, and so hurts the very substance of sympathising flesh. It is molecular to the human, it is time traveled outer space, it is star born.  And though I save such words for great rarity indeed, Big Sur is sacred ground. And we do not want to wound a spoonful of it.


UPDATE TUESDAY  12:30 PM   The fires are not out. There is 5% containment. 550 Acres burned. There is no precise count of what is lost. Possibly 15 houses. No injuries. Area without fire since 1907.

Reports from the front are the sketchy, inaccurate stuff of natural disasters. On the charred or untouched ground of Big Sur residents race to familiar faces for news. Harrowed stun marks the posture of the bereft who have just escaped with their lives, their animals, the rescued bits of their past clutched in hand, stuffed in pockets, jammed in vehicles. 

The fires were sudden, swift. Flaming Pfeiffer Ridge just after midnight Monday lit the sky. Residents called out alarms. Made the wrenching choice to stay and fight ~~ or save what somehow might be saved.

Martha Karstens, well known and admired Fire Chief, at first alone, tried to save her own Big Sur house. Others came to help. They could not stop its burning to the ground. She left….headed for other homes and land and fought the day against ravaging flames that swept through this beloved pocket of coast and ridge that holds to its rocky breast the most beautiful coastal sweep in the world.

There will be heroes. There will be tragedy. There will be brave reports of desperate rescues. Frightened horses, nostrils flared against smoke-filled midnight air, urged clattering into metal trailers lit by burning trees. Cats pulled from hiding into arms. Goats and pigs herded to safety.

Soldiers against the flames renew. More arrive. The good will conquer. And watching from the outskirts of disaster, the news will filter out to us. What I can learn I will report. Stay tuned.(Photo Credits: Associated Press)


10 thoughts on “BIG SUR~Pfeiffer Fire~~Days 2, 3

    • Hi Sterling. The photos are from news reports on the internet that were said to be of the Pfeiffer fires. I was not there taking pictures myself.
      The text, glad you thought it poetic, is straight from my own experiences of five years in Big Sur, two transient and three housed, on Sycamore Canyon and Clear Ridge, and my gallery off Highway One. We had, it appears, different experiences on the same landscapes. Part of the magic of that geography likely.

    • Thanks, Vera. I’ve decided to stop. Nauseas for days now and body in a knot.
      Sounds as if the fires are under control. I have heard ZERO reports of injury or loss of animal life (pets at least, hopefully wildlife escaped). And that the devastated homeowners are being housed and comforted…food, shelter and friendship galore. Christmas presents for children et al pouring in. Hotels giving rooms and meals free. There are about 100 people affected. Many built their homes 40-50 years ago just out of their teens and newly married, raised their families. Now the homes are gone. Some one miracle or another woke everyone in the path after midnight, they (like the Fire Chief Martha Karstens–her house was the first to burn) walked out their front doors and 30-40 walls of flame were 10 feet away. It was so fast, pretty much everything lost, no time to gather possessions at all.
      And it’s nearly over. Good nights of sleep. Christmas. New Year. New homes, new wardrobes, new memories to build now.

  1. Your words are stunning, haunting, and tremendous in their ability to create reverberating emotion. Thank you for sharing your gift of conveying what we all feel…

    • Your words are heartwarming. I lived 3 years in Big Sur and am still close by. It is impossible to forget a minute of it, or an inch of it, and always a challenge to identify what on Earth and beyond has hit you from it.
      Thanky for the visit.

    • The short answer is NO. And thanks for the worry, John. However. Big Sur to my south west about 20 miles and the land called Cachagua (equal in every way sans ocean) is to the east about the same miles. They share in and join in dragon’s back ridges of the Santa Lucia range. In 2008 we had simultaneous Cachagua and Big Sur fires lasting months. Everyone living in either place or in between (like me) are always alert to the danger of fire. We had heavy smoke all day today, and a spectacular sunset. It does not seem now that the fires are growing or headed east. Almost more than even 5 years ago and that huge inferno, so many homes lost in this one. Really tragic. Old, beautiful, hand built, unsual homes and much loved.

  2. Great harrowing reportage ! You write so well. Move over CNN… BBC… NPR ..etc..
    How much personal strength it will take for the people who lost their homes, their land, to pick up and go into a new life ! Fortunately in this country people still bear, in their bodies really, the spirit of the frontier, when survival was always at risk and meant to start over again and again. I feel for all of them and for the beautiful land now so scarred.

    • Thank you, Vera. And very touching, your words. I was with a friend today who grew up in Big Sur. She was on her way to her best friend whose house burned to the ground Monday. They’re a couple with a year old baby. Father’s a carpenter, mom a masseuse, young couple and EVERYTHING is gone. There are already many furniture, clothes, money funds organized. The family’s moved out here with her family. I’ve never had that kind of loss and can’t imagine it. But you’re right. People grieve, learn, and move forward. And there is an innate courage in the ones who live in Big Sur. Thanks so much.

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