In case you haven’t heard, there’s a Big Sur fire. A big, big, Big Sur fire. And here I am all brushed up on my disaster awareness on the heels of the record-setting Cedar Rapids/ Iowa City flood. Plague of locusts, anyone?
There are over 800 fires in California right now, and as of yesterday our fire, now named the Basin Complex, is the number one priority. (I’m not sure how to feel about that.) It warranted a quick fly-in from the Govenator and got us $20 million more in resources – a good thing.
The fire started after a lightning strike on Saturday afternoon and has burned 18 homes and large out-buildings so far. It’s growing more than 10,000 acres a day (bad news), almost entirely toward wilderness and away from the residential and business areas (good news.) At the moment I live in “central” Big Sur, if there is such a thing, and am about 2 miles northwest of the fire with a highway and river gorge in between us. I’m safe and at no immediate risk. The weather has been very helpful all week, staying cool and calm. We all have our ears perked up and bags packed though, as a wind change is expected tonight that isn’t as favorable. We have drought conditions and major overgrowth of underbrush everywhere here, so what isn’t burning is a match waiting to be lit. And fire, like water, has a mind of it’s own.
The community here is well-versed at emergencies and has pulled together beautifully. We already have a hotline going, fully staffed by volunteers for the next two weeks. Our entire fire brigade in Big Sur is a volunteer-driven nonprofit, as is our health center, and they’re incredible. I asked the( fantastic) guy who built the 2008flood.org website for Cedar Rapids three weeks ago if I could have his code, and I got surfire2008.org up and running yesterday, with the help of friends. I feel supported and connected to everyone here, and like any good small town, we all crowd around the steps of the state park station together at 7 each night to hear updates from Frank, our fire chief.
As for me, the impact is substantial and growing. I know many who have lost homes and many more who are evacuated. I’m scheduled to move on Monday, but my new place may or may not be standing right now (it’s in the middle of the worst part of the fire) so I’m packing, without knowing exactly where I’ll be yet. Yossi will be moving up north of San Francisco soon, but doesn’t have a place lined up, so we’ll both be in somebody’s guest room it seems for awhile. Most businesses are not operating, because the highway is closed and tourists are being turned around. And tourist season is Big Sur’s bread and butter for the year. The smoke is thicker than fog here – it woke me up with a start this morning, smelling like someone set a campfire in the kitchen. Esalen, where I used to live, has been evacuated, and while they expect they will be able to save it, the staff housing is right in the burn path, as is their water line. Power and phones went down days ago to everyone more than a mile south of me. The Henry Miller Library is being actively defended – the whole gorge coming down to it is on fire. (And Rob Schneider was going to do stand up there tomorrow night! Damn.)
It’s a sight to behold, this thing. I can walk up my road and watch the flames. Nature reminding us we aren’t so big and powerful. It’s clearing out the old pretty effectively, and as scary or sad or overwhelming as it becomes in some moments, I can appreciate that. A friend of a friend who lives right in the fire path and doesn’t know yet if her home is still standing said yesterday “at least I’ll finally be rid of those damn mice.”
And next spring in the Sur will be a blanket of bright, electric green.
I know many of you are spent with disasters of your own. But if you wish to help out, the most needed thing are contributions to the Big Sur Fire Relief Fund. You can mail donations to: Big Sur Fire Relief Fund PO Box 59 Big Sur, CA 93920.