The California Wildfire That Burned Big Sur – Part 1

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   Posted by: BJ Johnson in studio
This entry is part of a series: Spherical Magic & The Basin Complex Wildfire »

Spherical Magic & The Basin Complex Wildfire - Days 1-2

Not what you expect on an average Summer's day.

6/21/08, 5:55 PM

After three days of record heat, 105°+, a line of thunderstorms swept through here this afternoon and cooled things off a bit. We went out to watch. Don't get many T-Storms here and both of us being from the East Coast, they're a welcome event—most times... As they did, multiple bolts of lightning struck like strafing runs just across the valley through a deep dry air layer that had settled over us for the last week. Exciting at first but, quickly, I said:

"Oh, s**t, this is not good."

We watched 20 bolts hit the ground in the span of a few short minutes. I quickly grabbed the glasses and scanned for starts.

ONE OF THE WEIRDEST THINGS I'VE EVER SEEN

The storms that caused all of the fires were really unusual. Strangest rain I've ever seen. HUGE drops, 3/8" (9.5cm) or so in dia. Falling through the deep dry air layer, the fine drops all evaporated and apparently the mid-size got together in the cloud updrafts, perhaps forming hail and then melting as they fell. What a sight! I thought it was hail at first but there was nothing bouncing around on the deck; just large splats. Dobby came running terrified across the porch and got up on my folding rocker, looking at me, looking at the drops falling, looking back at me. I told him it was cool and he relaxed and watched.

Turns out, it wasn't cool. Problem was, it didn't last long enough and wasn't spread over a wider area. If the rain hasn't pre-soaked the area, or is soon to follow, there is nothing to impede ignition and propagation of the fire caused by the lightning strike.

OH, CRAP...

The Dry Lightning ignited four fires in the Los Padres National Forest, just to the south of us. One is about two miles away at this point. The largest is at about eight miles and the plume is seriously growing. I was on the phone immediately with a vector from here. Pretty soon, truck crews were battling them but, with the three previous fires, two to the north and the really large one (Indians Fire, 35.000 acres) farther to the south already taxing capability, we're more than a little concerned. These new ones and Indians are all in the Ventana Mountain Range and, if the wind goes wrong, the steep mountain sides will advance the fire quickly. Our studio is on the very top of one.

6/21/08, 7:35 PM

Choppers have attacked a few hot spots near the Los Padres Reservoir and are now carrying water buckets from it over the ridge to the SW. Concern is, each night this time of year, the wind switches from an NW ocean breeze coming up Camel Valley to a SW ocean breeze; coming directly up the mountain side—exactly from the direction of the fires.

We had plans to someday install a pair of large water tanks, a gas-powered pump, at least two hoses and fire suits, so we could defend this place. Didn't get that done due to a check not arriving. Now, it could be another instance of best laid plans...

6/22/08, 2:36 AM

Lots of smoke tonight, as I expected. The glow is a bit scary. Small fires have been dealt with, and they were closer. Weather is cooling down. "Only" going to be 92 tomorrow. Dropping to 49 that night and 77 high on Monday. That much of a temperature drop will surely bring some high winds, which isn't good. Winds off the coast stay pegged at NNW but the night breeze goes against that, so it's anybody's guess as to which way it'll be blowing here during that drop.

6/22/08, 3:46 PM

They are now called the Gallery Fire and the Basin Fire. It's bad when it gets a name. Smoke plume is way thicker today, so it looks like it's gong to be a long haul. Fire Department reported that there were 200+ lightning strikes and over 400 fires in this area. Bolts must have forked near the surface. This diluted the crews while they put out as many small and easy to douse ones as possible in short order. The big ones gained momentum, however. I hope it isn't past a critical point.

Ventana Double Cone PlumesVentana Double Cone Plumes on 6/23


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