Big Sur Fire – Update from June 26

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?

View of the fire from the top of my road, Sunday June 22

View of the fire from the top of our road, June 22nd

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 website for Cedar Rapids three weeks ago if I could have his code, and I got 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.



Filed under life

4 responses to “Big Sur Fire – Update from June 26

  1. p

    how are you faring, lisa? still safe?

    wishing you big, giant, fire retardant thoughts during this involuntary cleanse.

  2. The Death of the Dalai Lama–July 4, 2008

    OK, the REAL Dalai Lama didn’t die this morning, but Lisa’s dog, our “granddog,” did. I need to talk about Kirsha. Lisa rescued her in 2001 when she was about 4, so I guess she was about 11 years old today. Kirsha was an Australian shepherd/border collie mix, beautiful and unique. Even her name was unique. When Lisa adopted her, she was called “Hershey.” Lisa said, “That’s a boy’s name,” plus it just didn’t suit her. Wanting to be sensitive to the timbre of her previous name, Lisa thought of “Kirsha.”

    Kirsha always came when she was called. She would sit and give you a high-five. She never barked. Once in a while, in a joyful moment on a walk, she would raise her head and “Woooooooo!” and she snored when she slept, but those were the only noises she made.

    When Lisa moved to California to work at Esalen, Kirsha moved to Iowa to live with us. We welcomed her and we loved her. Well, maybe except for Baby, our very spoiled 8 year-0ld cat who tolerated Kirsha and would occasionally bop her on the nose to make it clear whose house this REALLY is.

    People thought Kirsha was shy, that maybe she had been abused early in life. Lisa thought of it more as over-disciplined, but Kirsha was clearly tentative at times. She looked guilty, like she’d done something bad, only she never did anything bad. I like to think Kirsha was just humble.

    When we went for long walks people were literally pulled to her. Two years ago I nicknamed her the Dalai Lama after many instances of people stopping us on our walks. A little boy sitting on his front porch ran to us, telling me he’d seen us walk by before and could he pet her? A woman stopped her car in the middle of the street and said she had a dog who looked just like Kirsha when she was a little girl. Small children would run to us in Bever Park and their parents would chase after nervously. I assured them that Kirsha was the most gentle dog on the planet and the kids would stick their faces in hers and she just smiled. She really DID smile–a lot.

    Kirsha spent most of the last year on her pillow next to our bed. She loved to be petted on the head, like a cat.

    Yesterday was a normal day. In fact, I thought she seemed a little livelier than usual, because on our short walk I said, “Let’s go!” and she actually ran a few steps like she used to. Late last night Denny took her for her last walk. When he came back in he said, “Something’s wrong with Kirsha.” I could see immediately that her back legs were struggling to work. She headed straight for her pillow and I sat down beside her. Her, “have I done something wrong?” eyes met mine and I said, “Denny, I think she’s had a stroke.” It was late…10:30 p.m. We decided, since she didn’t seem to be in pain, to watch her through the night and then we’d take her to the vet in the morning. Of course all the bad thoughts began creeping in, but I concentrated on just telling her (LOUDLY, because she couldn’t hear very well,) what a GOOD GIRL she was. I took her picture and then I stroked her head for more than an hour. She finally started her little snore and I slipped into bed for a couple of hours. I checked on her later and her eyes met mine, but we never heard a whimper. Neither Denny or I slept much. Kirsha’s breathing was erratic and at 5:30 a.m. we decided to just get up and go. Denny called the vet and we were told to go to a different vet who was on call for the holiday. We could come anytime and we decided to head out as soon as we got dressed.

    Denny called to Kirsha. She valiantly tried to obey, pulling herself up on her front legs and then she shocked us both by getting up and walking into the living room….a miracle, maybe? No. She wobbled and fell on her side. It was clear this was a catastrophic event. We got her into the car and began the drive to the vet’s office, way out by the airport. I sat with her in the back seat, stroking her head. Her eyes were constantly on mine. She was still worried she had done something bad.

    As we approached the vet’s office we decided to call Lisa even though it was only 4:30 a.m. in California. That wasn’t the easiest decision to make. Lisa has moved TWICE in the last few days, fleeing the fires in Big Sur. She and Yossi have worked tirelessly helping others, through Lisa’s website,, and helping friends pack their belongings. It was so hard to add to her burden, but she HAD TO KNOW.

    We had the initial tough conversation, “Lisa–Kirsha is really sick. I’m afraid she’s dying. We’re almost at the vet’s. Do you want to talk to her?” Lisa said, “I already did.” (I love that.) Then the damn cell phone disconnected us. We pulled into the parking lot. I said, “Denny, don’t go in. Just stop and park. I thinking she’s going.” Kirsha had a few convulsive motions. Lisa called back. Then a real miracle happened. I put my hand on Kirsha’s forehead and as I talked to Lisa, Kirsha slipped away. In death, just as in life, Kirsha died peacefully, calmly and humbly.

    The doctor and nurse were so kind, taking care to gently carry her inside, check for a heartbeat (she was gone) and then giving us time to be with her. They didn’t charge us anything for the office call, only for the arrangements for her cremation. Wouldn’t you know that Kirsha saved us about $100 by passing away in the parking lot. We wept and kissed her and drove home. We felt empty but strangely grateful that she died so peacefully and that we didn’t have to make the decision to euthanize her. Mostly we were grateful that Lisa was actually with us when Kirsha died.

    When Denny walked into our bedroom he immediately noticed something. Baby had left her precious “Whiskers,” a pathetic, chewed up stuffed animal that she carries around in her mouth, right next to Kirsha’s pillow.

    I will miss the Dalai Lama, but she taught me something tremendously important this morning: Death can be a peaceful release. I am grateful for her life and for her final lesson.

  3. dogs are the best. this makes me weepy. how lucky kirsha was to have such loving escorts. how lucky you all are to have found such a kind teacher. i’m going to go kiss my dog now.

  4. How kind you are….our daily rhythm remains disturbed, but we are comforted by the fact that Kirsha did not suffer.

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