Tourists Still Lighting Illegal Campfires in Big Sur

As everyone knows, a gigantic, illegal-campfire-caused wildfire is currently burning in Big Sur. It has already burned over 80,000 acres, destroyed nearly 60 homes, and led to the death of a firefighter. It isn’t expected to be contained, much less out, until the end of September.

You might think this reality – impossible for anyone living in, or visiting, Big Sur to ignore – would cause people to seriously think twice before building illegal fires of their own.

You might think this. But you’d be wrong.

Tourists are still lighting fires along the coast on a nightly basis. Many, in places that directly threaten homes and portions of the backcountry (like the Silver Peak Wilderness) the current fire is expected to spare.


Here, for example, lie the remains of a very recent campfire at Salmon Creek. Remember Salmon Creek?

Notice how it was not put out with water, but allowed to slowly die out on its own. The unburned ends of sticks, which must have smoldered for quite awhile, remain around the edges and dry bay leaves that fell onto the still-hot coals were partially burned and scorched. It’s purely good luck that the wind didn’t fan those leaves into flame and blow them into the surrounding brush.


Here’s another, only hours old, that was also left to its own devices. This one includes partially burned garbage and toilet paper. Nice!


And, speaking of toilet paper, here’s the start of a popular coastal trail in Pacific Valley. Let there be no doubt that more restroom facilities are needed along the coast. Just around the bend a group of tourists were smoking cigarettes while enjoying the view. It’s unfortunately common to see people smoking while walking through tinder dry brush on these trails.


Law enforcement, whether rangers, deputies, or CHP, tends to be sparse on the South Coast, but there were plenty of CHP officers available yesterday when it came to shutting down the Highway so this camera rig could film a sports car driving through the rock shed. Too bad patrolling for illegal fires isn’t as high a priority.


“What harm could there be in having a little campfire?” 

84 Responses to Tourists Still Lighting Illegal Campfires in Big Sur

  1. bigsurkate says:

    Until there is as much money and overtime in patrolling the South Coast as there is in closing the highway to film commercials, it will be a low priority. Is it any wonder that some folks on the South Coast think the USFS at the verify least doesn’t care, and at the most is trying to burn out its few residents?

    I have been complaining and documenting since April. Lately, my emails remain unanswered, perhaps due to the Soberanes. If the USFS can’t take care of its holdings, they should close them. Or concentrate its efforts in one area to remain open, and close the others. I know, not a popular position, but something has to change, or what the Soberanes doesn’t burn, the next careless camper will – just like in 2008 when the Chalk came on the heels of the Basin.

  2. bigsurkate says:

    Reblogged this on BigSurKate and commented:
    I want EVERYONE to read what XT has to say and show us today. Please.

  3. Heidi Hopkins says:

    Isn’t it likely that these folks lighting fires at Salmon Creek are “local” youth, such as young people from San Luis Obispo or other parts of Central California? I suppose you could call them tourists, but I think they would think of themselves as locals enjoying their favorite weekend getaways. Tribes of teenagers and twenty-somethings cutting (cluelessly) loose…?

  4. bigsurkate says:

    Heidi, I drive by there at least once a week, and most of the vehicles there do not have Central Coast license plates holders. Probably at least 1/2 of them are clearly rental cars. Granted, most of the rental cars do not spend the night, but if our “local teenagers and twenty-somethings” are really that clueless, then they need to go somewhere else to “cut loose.”


  5. Ken Ekelund says:

    We have to demand better enforcement. No more excuses. Everyone, please send that message to your elected officials.

  6. xasauan says:

    From what I’ve seen, most of the people who camp at places like Salmon Creek are indeed young (in their 20’s) and some are undoubtedly from places like SLO. Others are from the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas (probably the majority) and others from farther afield. “Tourists” may not be the best way to describe them, but the fires and mess they leave behind is indeed a problem.

  7. Little Philly says:

    Perhaps some of the big $ that is collected for filming can go both to toilets and patrol in the evenings (when campfires are built) on the popular spots. Think of it this way: if the attractive visual is gone due to the scenery being black from burn out then the commercial can’t be filmed, so it’s protecting their need too. A win-win!! Hear that MoCo Tourist Bureau? A partnership with the USFS for that protection? Out of the box idea, but that’s obviously what’s needed because it isn’t working now. If the scenery is destroyed, the $ will go elsewhere, that’s a given, because there is no emotional attachment to this area, it’s a business decision.

  8. bigsurkate says:

    Sadly, that is true, Lisa.


  9. Reblogged this on carmelhomesblog and commented:
    Frightening to realize illegal camp fires are being made while we are in our fourth week of the Soberanes Fire. The photos clearly illustrate we need more toilet facilities.

  10. mark welling says:

    All of the monies this state takes in were does it all go ? not to parks and services.

  11. jill whenmouth says:

    I’m wondering: could Hwy 1 be signed:
    “You Are Entering a No Smoking / No Campfire Area”
    with icons.
    Repeated in multiple languages?
    More than one sign.
    No way to be missed.
    Followed by on the other end: Thank you for Not Smoking and Not Making a Campfire

    Legal campfire places are exceptions.
    re $ cost: signage is cheaper than fire fighting.
    If not permanently signed, than temporarily (which could be a long time)

  12. When was the last time you encountered a Park Ranger on patrol of the back country? I have only been hiking southern Big Sur for 30 years, and I have never seen one.

    Compared to the cost of fighting the Sorberanes fire, the salary of a ranger would be cheap.

  13. James Merz says:

    I just went up Naciamento Road today, there are plenty of signs saying the forest is closed on many of the turnouts where people have been camping over the last few years. Not as many roadside campers, but they are still doing it. I did not see any fires. But the closure notice has penalties for not following the notice, up to $5000! If a few of these tickets per day got handed out for illegal fires then law officers could be funded it would seem. Zero tolerance, no warning tickets. I have seen fresh fire rings 5 feet from a no campfire sign! No enforcement of this get onto the Facebook and then people know they can get away with it. A few months of $5000 fines with get the Facebook humming and it will stop happening here.

  14. Little Philly says:

    We like to think that 1) people read signs, even when they’re icons for those that reading is a chore or wrong language and 2) they adhere to the msg. Unfortunately, the majority do neither. Thus the need for patrols, whose main concerns should be the fires and human filth.

  15. Little Philly says:

    Social media has a huge impact as do the big tickets. Like CalTrans and the “double fines in construction area”, USFS should have “maximum fines in restricted and closed areas”. I’d like to give out some of those tickets instead of just pouring H2O over their fire 5′ from the “NO FIRES” sign that’s 6′ tall!!

  16. Fred Taylor says:

    Unfortunately, a large amount of people, feel it is their constitutional right to misbehave in Big Sur, whether it is Cartels, illegal campfires, toilot problems, litterbugs, firebugs, turists driving, or stopping in middle of the road….but getting back to the most serious problem, unattended, inappropriate campfires, i wouldtake this lesson from the big city. Set up video cameras, and put up signs, indicating no camping, no fires, etc. Back it up with stout fines, and jail time, and I guarantee the illegal campers will move on. The word will get out. From what I understand illegal campers have been shut from Salmon Creek, and other areas on the coast, in the past, by law enforcement. If you video people doing illegal activities, and give it to local news, newspapers, the gov will stop it.

  17. Kyle K says:

    Just floating an idea here, so please feel free to weigh in but no flaming would be appreciated:

    Maybe some of us could do a little patrol some evening? I’m afraid to sound like a vigilante, so let me air this out. We could create a folder of photos of the massive toll of this fire, toilet paper and feces, garbage, trail abuse, whatever. Then a group could make an evening of going to the popular illegal spots, approaching peacefully and taking a couple of minutes to educate.

    My guess is some folks would get it, and maybe spread it within their circles and some wouldn’t, potentially acting hostile. The friendlies would be a win and the hostiles should be dealt with by simply leaving, photographing the hostile party, photographing their license plates and turning those photos into whichever authorities are appropriate.

    Again, just thinking out loud.

  18. katherine says:

    Massive fines, might have an impact..along with no smoking/fires…high fire hazard area. This has got to be cheaper than the millions spent on funding this massive ?<:{)(* fire. I wonder if local businesses could help spread the their rooms, menus, signage?

  19. Linda Jones says:

    Nothing I could say about law enforcement priorities here on the coast, or clueless tourists from any locale or age group, would be printable. How do you get the world to wake up to the reality that we are destroying what we really love?

  20. What Big Sur needs is some more law enforcement patrolling Naciemento-Ferguson Road or some vigilantes to protect our lands/homes/families.

  21. Sage Betty says:

    Permanently maintained dozer lines also would be a big help. Identify the problem areas and knock down the brush and trees around them, like public campgrounds. Dozer lines can provide safe access for firefighters as well, and as act as wildlife corridors. Instead of going up there in the middle of the night during a raging fire, in a reactionary fashion, and tumbling down the mountain. The erosion and sediment caused by tracklayers (dozers) is miniscule compared to the sediment that will flow into the creeks and rivers from this fire. It breaks my heart to watch this transpire when it could have easily been avoided with permanent dozer lines. We need a ‘change’ in policy to match ‘climate change’ and the number of morons out there. We lost 100k acres of prime forest land in the King Fire near Pollock Pines due to an lunatic arsonist. It could have been easily stopped with a permanent dozer line. We need to ratchet up our contingency plan all around the state to include a thousand miles of new permanent line, especially around car camping grounds. Lets take risk management to the next level, folks! Excuse me, next dimension.

  22. Jane Gregozek says:

    Last month we found the disgusting remains of 3 campfires on the National Forest land across hwy 1 from our house near Torre Canyon. All the fires were made within about 1/2 mile of hwy1. There are a number of homes that would be threatened if one of the fires spread. I have had trouble finding out who to report these fires to. I called the Forest Service but there was no answer. I emailed a Coast Property Owners to ask what to do. Does anyone have any ideas?
    I have been a part time resident of Big Sur for 50 years.

  23. xasauan says:

    Dozer lines are not a panacea. The Soberanes Fire has already crossed a number of dozer lines including a dozer line on Skinner Ridge, to get into the Ventana Wilderness, and an extremely wide dozer line on Post Summit, to get into the Big Sur Valley. Fires in Southern California, like the ongoing Blue Cut Fire, routinely jump 8 lane freeways.

  24. Mort says:

    We live in a “fire climax” area. Most of the Western Forests are that way. Forest Fires start a new cycle of life for many of the trees and plants. Nature. There is little we can do to control that. Sad, but no getting away from that. Lightning usually sets it off. Every 150 years or so. We try to control that, but we can’t. We have contained and put out a lot of fires that have broken the natural evolution, and that has contributed to the build up of unnatural under growth. That has made the fires we now experience overwhelming. The history of a forest far out lives people. That being said, when a human idiot starts a fire that causes this type of destruction to homes and nature, you try to find a solution that will solve the immediate problem. Will not work in the long run. Hopefully we can stop the idiots from setting off the destruction, but Nature will eventually do it on it’s own. Best we can do is clear the brush away from our homes, try to maintain the dozer lines, and keep the idiots out. Don’t count on that.

  25. Anne C. says:

    I am a volunteer wilderness ranger partnered with the USFS (of short funding) and the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (a nonprofit). Those who go into the forest to clean up toilet paper, douse campfires–both of which I did a couple of weeks ago myself at Salmon Creek–do it because we love the Ventana and realize that we’re virtually the only option out there.

    I value Big Sur Kate’s blog and understand her concerns, but this comment of hers has me livid: “Until there is as much money and overtime in patrolling the South Coast as there is in closing the highway to film commercials, it will be a low priority. Is it any wonder that some folks on the South Coast think the USFS at the verify least doesn’t care, and at the most is trying to burn out its few residents?”

    The USFS *has limited resources*. To think they’re “trying to burn out residents” is hogwash. Maybe Big Sur Kate should get on board as a volunteer wilderness ranger herself, rather than spouting such ridiculousness.

    Meanwhile, the Ventana is huge. Even if the USFS were patrolling like crazy, it’s impossible to catch everything. PEOPLE need to be RESPONSIBLE. Don’t blame this on the feds.

  26. xasauan says:

    The length of the “natural” fire return interval in our area is probably shorter than 150 years (I’ve often seen 40 to 100+ years cited). But whatever the historic interval, with this being the third fire to burn across the Ventana Wilderness in 17 years, I don’t think we can blame it on an unnatural buildup of under growth. The intensity of the burning, as in other fires in our area (like the Basin Complex), has been entirely dependent on factors like humidity and wind. As official reports have already noted, fuel within the 2008 Basin Complex scar has been supporting “critical rates of spread.” – the highest level on the Cal Fire scale – whenever the weather permits.

  27. bigsurkate says:

    Anne, I did not say *I* feel that way, so please do not attack the messenger, but there are some residents who do. I would LOVE to be able to hike my beloved Big Sur back country as I did Pike’s Peak, San Gregorio, San Jacinto and others BEFORE the tram, but alas, I lost my leg above the knee at age 19, and that pretty much ended my strenuous hiking days, as well as my running days, and boy did I love both. I appreciate all that you do as a volunteer ranger and you have my respect. Trust me, if I could, I would join you, but after damaging my only knee rather severely in a fall, I am now in a wheelchair. Be kind, as you do not know where another being has traveled, and you do not know the trails I have had to negotiate in this life. Blessings.

  28. bigsurkate says:

    FYI, the USFS DID burn out mining cabins in the 80’s – even occupied ones – and attempted to burn out Blanco Diablo’s home, so this is not as far-fetched as you believe.

  29. xasauan says:

    While patrols cannot eliminate irresponsibility, they can certainly reduce it. I think the volunteer rangers have done an incredible job in backcountry hot spots, like Sykes, and they have even tried to make a dent at roadside spots, like Salmon Creek. All I know is that the problem is serious enough that someone, and it certainly shouldn’t have to be left to volunteers, should be patrolling these roadside camps EVERY EVENING during fire season. There are a finite number of heavily used campsites, they’re easily accessible by car (which is why they’re popular), and there’s more than enough at stake to justify the expense.

  30. Anne C. says:

    Big Sur Kate: My apologies! Thank you for your kind response. I’m sorry for my harsh words. As for what was done in the 1980s, I hope that no longer reflects current actions. And, xasauan… there’s just not enough money for our federal programs anymore (of whatever sort–and I’m sure forests are pretty low on the list of priorities), so the chance of paid patrols is nil. The USFS doesn’t even have a law enforcement ranger in the northern Los Padres anymore. There’s one sheriff’s deputy in Big Sur (and last there there was none). The fact is, there are simply too many people traveling Hwy 1, and too little infrastructure to keep up with them. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but my work as a wilderness ranger keeps convincing me: either people don’t know what’s right and reasonable, or else they don’t care. I’m not sure what the answer is…. It’s hard not to give up hope.

  31. Anne C. says:

    P.S. Big Sur Kate: I don’t know where you are (though I’m guessing south county, via a (possibly) mutual friend, Kate Spencer) or how mobile via car, but once the Ventana opens for business again, we do have trailhead volunteers who speak with backpackers heading out on the Pine Ridge Trail. Leave No Trace ethics. Perhaps you’d be interested? We have a Partington Ridge resident who volunteers, and i love her spiel, since she focuses on campfires—and she knows first-hand how destructive fires can be. (Me, I focus on toilet paper, since I find the idea of leaving your used TP in our communal living room beyond offensive.) In any case, THANK YOU so much for your wonderful blog! I hope to meet you one day.

  32. Little Philly says:

    Irregardless of how Mother Nature affects the forests with natural fires, the USFS and other gov’t agencies will need to address Climate Change and its effects on the forests and come up with new
    policy to care for the land and battle the blazes. The present model is not sustainable ecologically or financially.

    Volunteers are great but the other component needs to be USFS presence on trails and roads. That means paid personnel.

  33. Anne C. says:

    That means money. That means Congress giving the funds. It’s not going to happen.

  34. Anne C. says:

    Oh and, even if Congress does give the funds, it will mean a small handful of paid staff. We need more volunteers. Anyone who cares about this wilderness—really cares—please DO volunteer. We’re the ones who will save this place.

  35. Sage Betty says:

    Why not just knock down these finite camp sites that we know are a problem with a D9? Robert Reagan should have been up on Skinner Ridge, during the day, with a buddy in March and April making that line wider and more accessible for safe and earlier entry by firefighters. Totally agree with you Little Philly, the current system is failing miserably and we are spending a fortune on it. And most importantly, losing valuable human life. We need real change. Not just restateing the obvious like fires are the product of humidity and wind etc. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And the off season is when we should be winning the fight, when resources are widely available and it’s not so risky. Very sad.

  36. Third generation San Diegan here. I’ve been traveling up to the area affected by this fire since the early 1990s. I’ve noticed a few things during that period (and others who are more familiar with the area feel free to correct me if I am wrong):
    * It is dryer than it has ever been in my lifetime.
    * The overall temperature has increased substantially, with hotter days predominating during all seasons.
    * There are more, more, more people than ever before visiting these parks.
    * The number of rangers at the SPs is woefully inadequate. I rarely see more than one or two rangers on hand, and they are supposedly responsible for managing the entirety of a single park–Big Sur, Pfeiffer Big Sur, Limekiln, and Molera SPs.
    * There are a fairly large number of people smoking cigarettes, and lighting camp fires, even during the incredibly warm summer months.

    In short, I feel like we have way more tourists visiting these parks, and our leaders have them staffed at 1950s level with 1950s pay grades. It’s obnoxious and absurd.

    I have noticed the same issues at Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego over the past twenty years. Ridiculous amount of people visiting every day, incredibly dry, people violating all kinds of rules (smoking, pets, off trail hiking, etc), no rangers to monitor anything that is happening. Perhaps we should start a petition for more state park funding, rangers, etc. at to get the attention of our state officials? I think many people would sign, if this hasn’t been done already.

    I feel helpless, and I do feel we are in danger of losing much of California’s beautiful open space due to the effects of climate change and overpopulation unless something is done soon. Perhaps it is already too late.

    Chris Hendrickson

  37. Sage Betty says:

    Debunking and legalizing cannabis will help also. Let professional farmers grow it in farm fields rather than out in the bush where the dread heads and Mexican nationals do stupid things like strap water heaters to trees, etc. Get serious about clearing out dead wood in public car camp grounds and putting huge dozer lines around them. Both the Rey and Cedar fire look like they started in campgrounds. The beetles are as far north as the El Dorado National Forrest and ravaging it. Patrolling sounds like more of the same from ignorant California Department of Forestry environmental sciencetists that are partly responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place. We cant patroll the entire state. The scope and scale of this mess is statewide and 10’s of millions of acres. We are losing entire ecosystems. And more importantly, human life.

  38. xasauan says:

    You are right, Chris. More people than ever are visiting the parks. But they aren’t staffed at 1950s levels. They are staffed far below 1950s levels. The last effort to increase funding for State Parks was through a ballot measure. It failed. Just as with roads and other government services; people want parks and heavily use them, but don’t want to pay for them. There are also many people, like Sage Betty, who are openly hostile to science and reject efforts to reduce ignitions in favor of bulldozing firebreaks, or whatever solution they happen to personally believe in. The end result is that we end up spending hundreds of millions to put out fires that could have been prevented for much less.

  39. Sage Betty says:

    Not hostile to science. Just tired of human haters putting frogs and toads before human safety. Cal Fire Environmental is constantly blocking clearing projects on private land by demanding EIR’s for forestland conversions where cattle have roamed for a hundred years. Where the chance of there being a threatened or endangered species is slim to none. Maybe your entitled attitude would not be so bad if you had to pay for and maintain a large tract of land. Step out of your bubble and get serious about a new plan that will work instead of defending policies that are a failure.

  40. Sage Betty says:

    I sincerely appreciate the ‘In memory of Robert Reagan’ that you’ve posted on your website, but you really do he and his family no justice by being flat footed on this one. I thought I had some good ideas. Not even remotely interested in growing cannabis, but do want to permanently clear (convert) a thousand dead and bugged trees, 100 acres, without an EIR, to protect our town and its human inhabitants.

  41. Nature traveler says:

    What about more tracking of visitors that enter the big sur area by car? So many other state parks in our country have a box where upon entering you put in your “permit” (no fee) just so they know who’s there at any given moment. I imagine this is twofold… To track who is there in case of emergency + also to keep people accountable for their actions. And if you don’t fill out the permit and get caught, there is definitely a fine. Has the big Sur area ever tried something like this?

  42. Dan says:

    We’re seeing the same stupidity and lack of care for our wildlands in the Sequoia National Park area. They paid their $30 entrance fee, so the feel they can do as they like. Toilet paper and feces everywhere, dog off leashes, full-on sound systems at swimming holes, cutting down trees and brush to make camping and river access spots larger, trash everywhere, tagging, and fires (campfires and barbecues). I’ve come across three, just this week. Two of which were made in dry leaf litter beneath overhanging trees. Insanely frustrating when people refuse to use common sense and are solely concerned with their own selfish outdoor experience. The demographics of the park visitor-ship has changed drastically within the last fee years and has lead to a dramatic increase in these unwanted occurrences. Sad and dangerous for other visitors and local residents.

  43. xasauan says:

    So far, Betty, you’ve told us that the Soberanes Fire “could have been easily stopped with a permanent dozer line,” that patrolling to reduce illegal campfires is “ignorant,” that bulldozing illegal campsites “with a D9” would be a better solution, and that Cal Fire scientists who think an EIR should be prepared before 100 acres of forest is permanently removed hate humanity. From inside my entitled bubble this looks like trolling, rather than a genuine desire to discuss fire prevention strategies.

  44. cboppadoo says:

    I’ve read through the entire commentary here and see it devolving into personal tirades, defensiveness and finger pointing. I’ve lived in Carmel Valley and the Monterey Peninsula since 1960 and for a very long time have been heartsick at seeing heavy population growth and the many signs of stress in supposed permanent open spaces. California’s ecology is under great stress at all times now including every aspect of human-related industry and recreation. We assume that “common sense” should be used, but it may not even be taught at home or modeled in public. We have millions of visitors coming to the coast from all around the world, pot growers (drug cartels and their gangs) creating severe impacts throughout the national and state forest lands, social media driving a look-at-me/selfie entertainment industry, and the same population at large who make up the 70-80% of society who assume they are above average and to whom laws and regulation don’t apply. Volunteers in much greater force must be trained and organized, but they need backup by law enforcement. The need for activism on a national and state level that pushes for realistic funding of ranger salaries and resources has reached critical levels, as many here have stated, and it’s true that the cost of prevention of wildfires, education and enforcement by rangers has to be less than the cost of just one massive fire like the current one. Without government and local leadership that puts teeth into existing laws and regulations, volunteer efforts are it for now. I also agree that money bright here by ecotourism won’t exist if the whole place is a charred and littered mess. State, County, and City Chambers of Commerce and visitors agencies must get the message and see dollars going elsewhere if Big Sur and other recreation areas are ruined.

  45. Susan Rocky Pt says:

    I’ve been visiting Big Sur since the early 70’s, my Dad moved to the Rocky Point area in 1981, so I visited several times a year, moving here in 2011 to care for him. Sometime in 2013 I realized that I was living in a ” hellhole” ruined by tourists! Utterly shocking to witness first hand the exponential explosion of people! Zero infrastructure and ( expletives deleted) morons promoting tourism, related economic benefits. Where is the $$?? Who profits from the destruction of this once magnificent area? There is exactly one sign stating ” no overnight camping” on Highway 1 in the stretch between Carmel and Bixby Bridge and it took me 7 months of hammering on CalTrans and the threat of a lawsuit for the attractive nuisance they created by widening the turnout, to get that sign. The problems we face all stem from zero accountability on the financial side by the government. To every problem we hear the constant refrain” there’s no money”. More expletives deleted as I just am so disgusted by this cancerous excuse. The only way to protect this area, in my view, is to make it expensive for people to visit and to make it hugely expensive for them when they litter, and jail them for illegal campfires. If that sounds extreme, then so be it. Toll roads, like So California where you don’t stop, with free access for residents. I love the idea of eliminating attractive nuisance stops like Salmon Creek by every means possible, cameras, Huge fines, accountability for the $$$. And some expensive, low profile restrooms like the new one on Carmel beach– this problem will not go away by ignoring it! One freaking outhouse between the Rocky Point restaurant and Rio Rd Starbucks, with traffic backed up for hours? Hell on earth. We need to organize, demand and implement change.

  46. Shortly after the first Xasauan Today post about the bad and the ugly at Salmon Creek, several uniformed Volunteer Wilderness Rangers completed a patrol there. (I believe commentor Anne C. was one of them.) This was about a week or so after the Soberanes Fire began. They packed out trash, removed fire rings and attempted to erase some of the graffiti left behind by previous visitors. They also encountered a group of young people from Oakland who had a morning campfire. Utilizing their training on the proper way to engage the public, they calmly educated the visitors about the extreme danger posed by their illegal fire. (I admit I’d have a hard time being calm and polite in such a situation.) The visitors from Oakland were immediately contrite and took immediate action to drown their campfire and remove the fire ring. They were so remorseful and penitent that they went back to the Rangers to apologize several times that morning. The Rangers had to ask, “Did you notice the intense smoke when you drove south? Did you know that the fire was started by an illegal campfire?” They answered “yes” yet did not know that their own fire was illegal! Mind boggling! I guess the point of this story is that educating the public is essential to fire safety in Big Sur. Signage, where appropriate, will help. But getting boots on the ground and interacting with visitors directly is most effective. And cleanup is essential. When trash, fire rings, toilet paper and graffiti are left behind, subsequent visitors may look at it as tacit approval for further trashing of the place. That’s why fire ring removal is especially important. The obvious solution is dramatically increased funding for field staffing at California State Parks and the US Forest Service. We must work together to make that happen. It is not going to be easy. Until that time, the Ventana Wilderness Alliance will continue to fund the Volunteer Wilderness Ranger program. The Rangers, vetted and trained by the US Forest Service, do a great job but they can only do so much. For example, they cannot do enforcement. Many who love the Big Sur community and our public wildlands feel that the situation is out of control. Without proper visitor management, that feeling will not go away.

  47. chendri887 says:

    Does anyone else feel defeated by the immensity and scope of this issue? My feeling is that what open space is left in the United States–in California and elsewhere–will be, for lack of a better word, “colonized” by a collusion of the massive influx of immigration into the United States since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the impacts of global neoliberalism (encouraging people to view the planet as a consumer product) and Internet-influenced tourism. I don’t see any way out of this catastrophe (to me it’s a catastrophe, at least) barring a massive change in our government’s approach to national and international affairs.

  48. Sage Betty says:

    I feel like I’m shopping antiques. Two dozer operator fatalities in as many big fires in the area.

  49. Sage Betty says:

    Unfortunately, not the extremely valuable antiques like Kirtchner brought out of Khartoum. Sadly the junky stuff you can find in every nickel and dime. Yes this is in good faith. You just don’t like what I have to say and that’s great!

  50. PD says:

    We need to mobilize. I’m all for doing what is necessary to protect nature. The points about the costs of NOT protecting the natural world are correct. How do locals proceed? The Multi Agency group?? I send this blog and Bigsurkate articles to my decision makers on a regular basis, but get virtually no feedback. So frustrating. Both blogs (including public comments) address what we need decision makers to take seriously. How to proceed? Certainly it cannot be such a monumental task to create a toll road open to residents?

  51. bigsurkate says:

    PD, I feel your frustration. I had Dave Potter’s office put the overuse and abuse of Big Sur on the agenda for the April BSMAAC meeting. We discussed this for HOURS. Down here, we have been documenting the camping, the fire rings, the human waste since the beginning of the year. Every one attending contributed thoughtfully and many of us offered possible suggested solutions. If you check my blog, you can see all of that. Look under “pages” on the right for Over use and for loving big Sur to death – photos. Toll roads, incorporation, special district, are just some of the things we are looking at. We are late, but never “too late.”

  52. CJDGO says:

    Meanwhile, on the south end of the Los Padres, the Rey Fire is at 19,000 acres today after just two days of burning — forming a massive pyrocumulus cloud over southern Santa Barbara County. The cause has not yet been declared, but it is believed to have started in the White Rock Day Use Area. (Amazingly enough, White Rock is an allowed campfire use site under the Stage III fire restrictions currently in effect). Sad and confusing.

  53. PD says:

    Kate , I was at the April meeting, and have read your whole blog since 2008. This is why I feel frustrated. We have the evidence, documentation, endless stories, but why can’t we get something other than plans for development along the coast to “accommodate ” rather than limit numbers and address capacity? If not this year, when? I am inspired by your commitment to the whole Big Sur community, and truly hope this year leads to some effective actions on the part of government agencies.
    I can’t thank you enough for what you do! As long as I am able, I want to be part of the solution…just can’t sit back

  54. Julia Ingersoll says:

    Let’s see: six million dollars a day to fight the current fire, on day 30 = $180 million should be the fine for an illegal campfire right now. Bankrupt you, and seven generations of ypur clueless offspring.
    This is OUTRAGE.
    Why isn’t a fraction of the money spent fighting fires allotted to patrolling and lookouts??

  55. John Handy says:

    Our Federal, State and Monterey County governments have let Big Sur down. We have repeatedly had public meetings asking for increased law enforcement, restroom facilities, trail maintenance, fire break maintenance and highway 1 maintenance and NOTHING happens. The tourist population has exploded to approximately 5 million visitors a year but there has been a marked reduction of services.

  56. Susan Rocky Pt says:

    It’s very encouraging to me to read a lot of the comments, especially those by PD and John Handy. I propose that we form an activist group to ” take back Big Sur”. As Big Sur Kate commented, we are late, but never too late. There are many actions that can be taken, by the government, if we effectively demand them- perhaps beginning with signs, signs I see in other parts of the country, warning of ” You are Entering an Extreme Fire Hazard Area!”
    and $1,000 fine for littering! Signs as an immediate action – but collectively we can come up with action items, budget amounts, sources of funds ( where are the Sean Parker millions?) public and private donations, and make radical changes. We’ve experienced radical impacts from unprecedented levels of tourism, so we need a coordinated, effective response. Suggestions on organizing? I believe we should be presenting ” demands” along with identified sources of funds to the BSMAC (?) or we risk analysis paralysis

  57. C. M. Heard says:

    FWIW, I have been told that the Monterey Ranger District has several LEO’s on detail for a month or more to cover the District, and these folks are aware of the illegal campfires. What is needed, however, is more on the scale of “small army” than “several.” The funds that were spent in a few days of suppressing the Soberanes fire (or any other of similar scale) could easily fund that small army.

  58. Kyle K says:

    Walking around Asilomar yesterday I happened upon one of the State Parks officers. I brought up the issues happening at Salmon Creek, along with the rest of our little slice of the world. She doesn’t patrol that far south (nor is it State Parks property) but spent 6 years living in Big Sur (former fire crew) and has quite an affinity for it. Here’s her take on getting some action from the various government agencies:

    Call it in, every time. She admitted that one phone call or email regarding an issue or issues at a site is not likely to get much action, as the various services are understaffed and underfunded, as we all know. However, if they receive numerous complaints/notices they will be much more likely to respond in a timely manner. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    I know this doesn’t fix the long term issues. All of those need to be addressed. But my take is that it’s better to be proactive in as many ways as you can, and this is one way to start the ball rolling.

    Here is the contact info for the folks that oversee Salmon Creek:
    Monterey Ranger District
    406 So. Mildred
    King City, CA 93930
    Phone: (831) 385-5434
    FAX: (831) 385-0628

    Sorry I don’t have an email address for them directly. Anyone have that?

  59. dave nelson says:

    The Monterey District Ranger is Tim Short
    “Short, Timothy -FS”

  60. dave nelson says:

    “Short, Timothy -FS”
    for some reason his complete email did not come through.

  61. Kyle K says:

    Hi Dave, still not coming through complete. Thanks for providing it though!

  62. xasauan says:

    I believe it’s

  63. bigsurkate says:

    And good luck getting any response from Tim Short.


  64. dave nelson says:

    That is the correct email. For some reason it wouldn’t paste into this forum. I second Kate’s comment.

  65. WinemakerGreg says:

    This is a very interesting thread. Thanks for the civility and the variety and quality and quantity of opinions and ideas! As a Carmel Valley resident, I appreciate so much thought and caring going into our community.

  66. Sage Betty says:

    We should introduce the use of herbicides next year to bolster these new dozer lines we’ve spent so much money, and human life, on. Herbicides are used regularly in the National Forest when replanting to give the saplings a fighting chance. The amount of retardent that will find its way to creeks and rivers is worse than runoff from properly applied herbicides, IMO. Also spray the foliage around these finite trouble spots, after we bulldoze them, and post signs saying, “Area Sprayed With Herbicide.” That will take care of the SLO problem. Also a feather board of a single D9 and a spotter could easily clear a 100 yard swath on both sides of I-15 Cajon pass in a week. Install water bars and work with a Caltrans Spray Crew to keep the foliage down permanently. That would save the State about 50 million a year on average. But we can’t do that because there might be a threatend turtle on land that has burned over and over again. It’s hard to expect the legislature to give the Cal Fire folks a raise when we have these kind of results.
    Also the BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars industry has spent to meet these new clean air laws is being pissed away. The air is dirtier than ever. That’s ignorant CA Air Resources Board. Some inter-agency prioritizing and new evasive action would go along way to restore public sentiment.

  67. Denise says:

    Keeping it short and sweet.
    Educating people at entry points and trail heads – good.
    But because Big Sur open is accessed via a major N/S highway and many “visitors” can only enjoy the privilege of area’s unique beauty once…
    Raising the awareness of the young – IMHO – better. (Smokey the Bear Jr. is needed) And throw the net wide. The wider, the better. Hopefully this will help ALL beautiful areas of the world. Maybe some ideas from the “Coastal Stewardship Program” can be used… for students who’s parents are not so very vested in preservation of Nature’s beauty. (I would hope that the basics have already been passed down.)
    As for Sean Parker $$$

    Click to access Sean_Parker_grant_update.pdf

    And finally..
    Yes – you read that right.
    GOATS – they LOVE poison oak! And thistle..
    I have not used them. I have no affiliation with the company but found them AFTER working on my 100 foot defensible space. May be a good use of grant/fund money.
    OK – maybe not so short.
    Continue the good effort and I for one will continue to do what I do. Cuz “Every day is Earth Day.”

  68. Susan Rocky Point says:

    Per the documents referenced by Denise re Sean Parker, there is one million dollars not accounted for– a settlement of 2.5 million dollars is referenced, 1.5 million in Grants listed, no discussion of the remainder. Parker grant update.pdf

  69. Denise says:

    Susan Rocky Point – After a quick search, found the link after seeing the name in your post. I did not connect the name with that ridiculous big a$$ wedding. I included it as the date was recent and thought it might be of help. Just FYI
    “Date: August 8, 2016
    Contact: Noaki Schwartz, public information officer, at (562) 833-5487”
    Hey – there’s even a POC! (for what that’s worth – lol)

  70. Susan Rocky Point says:

    Thank you Denise, I have a call into Noacki and she’s looking…..I will update when I hear back from her.

  71. Susan Rocky Point says:

    According to the Coastal Commission spokesperson, Noaki, the remaining million went to the Coastal Conservancy
    and has been “earmarked for violations and mediation” related to Big Sur coastal access—–whatever that means!
    Back to my initial point regarding sources of funds, what I wanted to get across was that we should not accept the standard refrain of “there is no money” If we organize and create a reasonable action plan, with costs identified, I believe that the funds can be found through public and private sources.

  72. Kris says:

    When my daughter and I were there at the beginning of the fire. We were shocked to see so many people smoking along the turn outs and vista points ..

  73. chendri887 says:

    The smoking. That really gets me. Why did I see so many smokers at these northern California state parks in summer? Nicotine gum: Maybe a better choice.

  74. JoeA says:

    Hi from England

    I first visited your wonderful area in October 2014, and am due to return in early October this year. I travelled in a rental camper in 2014 and will do the same this time around. I’ve been keeping a close eye ever since on the issues of overuse of Big Sur, and of the impact of the recent wildfires and how I can travel the area without leaving a trace (via the excellent BigSurKate blog).

    One thing that shocked me when I visited 2 years ago was how little information was provided by the rental company regarding responsible travel through the area, where to sleep, what NOT to do etc. I used common sense, free camping overnight on the Nacimiento road on a very clear turnout, eating peanut butter sandwiches instead of cooking, leaving no trash, and using the provided toilet facilities in a nearby car park. Basically treating the area as if I am a local.

    Some people don’t have this common sense. Others just don’t care, (in which case fines seem like the only option). One way or another the information needs to be in the faces of the tourists so that they can’t claim ignorance.

    Oh, and on the point of Big Sur being taken over by the social media/look at me type tourists – I have recently tried my hardest to put people I know off of travelling through Big Sur whose only intention I know is to populate their instagram feed! (sorry for the real rambler of a post).

  75. Nunya bizznessss says:

    A tourist is a tourist no need to be considerate of people’s sensitive egos

  76. Susan Rocky Point says:

    Thank you Joe from England. I think you bring up an excellent point, albeit indirectly, that we are ” tarring everyone with the same brush.” Not all tourists are evil, fire- starting, littering you know whats. On some level we were all tourists once, just as we were all immigrants once. The problems are largely related to a lack of infrastructure and the somewhat suddenly exponentially huge ” user group.” We need to set things up so that people can know what the right thing to do is, provide the ability to do so, then hold them accountable if they don’t – and I’m speaking to the issues most directly related to highway travelers. Rest stops with bathrooms, signage- let’s inform people of the rules!, toll roads to reduce travel and to provide a gateway into a protected area. You don’t find a lot of crap & toilet paper, cigarette butts or illegal campfires inside Pt. Lobos, for instance. Joe, I hope you enjoy Big Sur next time you visit.

  77. Speaking of Hogwash… “150 years between burns”?? If I think back during my limited lifespan and even more limited memory, I can think of the Basin fire 2008, the Kirk fire 1999, the marble-cone fire 1977. The tassajara fire 2015. All of these were started by lightening. Granted this not a comprehensive study but I cannot see how anything over 20 years could be considered “normal”

  78. Chris Pentony says:

    The Tassajara fire in 2015, was caused by human activity.

  79. Sick of People Who Know NOTHING!!!!!!! says:

    I wish you people would stop blaming the Forest Service on things such as this. We work our asses off with less to do more continuously. You have no idea what you are talking about when you say we have no priorities. You want to bitch about something, Bitch to the damn congressperson that covers your area, and ask why is it a low priority on THEM to make sure we get a budget that is workable. To hire more people to do the work that needs to be done especially is areas that are known to have high use. No, you would rather sit at a computer or phone and point out What YOU think you know. Guess what, You don’t. I challenge you to come into one of our offices, work with our budget, hear how we need to not do more with less, yet are expected to do miracles by the general public like you.

  80. Mike Heard says:

    Regarding the commentary from Sick of People Who Know Nothing: while I would have recommended choosing a more polite way to say it, I have to say that the substance of the message is spot-on. I have done volunteer work at an FS offices and have seen first-hand how sorely understaffed the agency is.

    Mike Heard

  81. Heidi Hopkins says:

    The way I see it, our natural world is unraveling around us due to climate change. We need to stick together as communities — locals, resource agencies, county and state entities — to make a difference in the land around us. The solutions aren’t easy, and blaming is not the way to start. Kudos to the Ventana Wilderness Alliance with its volunteer backcountry rangers out there providing education, patrolling, fire-ring clean-up and wilderness toilets!! A drop in the bucket, but a start. Working towards adequate funding of the agencies’ enforcement efforts would be another important goal.

  82. Kim King says:

    What about creating more legal, coastal, state park campgrounds? Give the kids from Oakland a place to go.

  83. pdtillman says:

    @Kim King
    Not a bad idea. Since people are going to keep camping here, better that they build their fires in a steel pedestal box.

    Arcadia will not return, alas….

  84. pdtillman says:

    And some porta-potties near the busiest shit-in-the-woods places is worth considering too. The Pacific Valley trails are truly disgusting. Doggie Bag dispensers needed too!

    Finance the whole thing by making Hiway 1 a toll road from Garrapata to Ragged Point! Dream Big!

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