What harm could there be in having a little campfire?
Those who live in, or near, California’s fire-prone wildlands tend to get pretty jumpy around the Fourth of July. Many refuse to travel to town for parades and parties; preferring instead to stay at home re-checking water systems and sharpening chain saw blades. Their eyes crawl up to scan the sky for smoke so frequently it becomes a nervous tic. They sniff the air so often that they appear to be suffering from nasal congestion. They fly into a rage at the sight of anyone building campfires or using fireworks.
There’s a reason for this behavior. Around the Fourth of July, the slobs who persist in building campfires throughout the summer, the cretins who fire volleys of bullets into dry grass and brush, and the morons who drag spark-showering chains from their trailer hitches, are surpassed in stupidity by troglodytes packing fireworks.
Shooting off fireworks in a dry landscape is an extremely effective way to start a fire. Even sparklers, seemingly the most “Safe and Sane” of all fireworks, burn at an astounding 1,200 degrees fahrenheit. Every year, Cal Fire responds to about 500 fireworks-caused fires around the Fourth of July.
While there are a handful of cities in Monterey County that permit the sale and use of state-approved fireworks, the mere possession, let alone use of fireworks outside the city limits of those towns is 100% illegal.
This includes National Forest land, where possession and/or use of fireworks of any kind is strictly prohibited, with violators subject to fines of up to $5,000 and as much as 6 months in jail (in addition to any cost of fire suppression).
With Level II Fire Restrictions now in place, campfires (including charcoal grills) are also strictly prohibited in the National Forest (with the exception of designated fire pits in a handful of specified car campgrounds). The only thing a campfire permit will currently permit you to do is cook on a stove (and you are not allowed to use a stove without a campfire permit).
Meanwhile, just in time for the Fourth of July, the southern closure on Highway One has been moved north from Ragged Point to Salmon Creek. This substantially improves access to the Silver Peak Wilderness for the few able to stand its hot, buggy summer conditions, but also restores vehicular access to Salmon Creek for the near-road campers who routinely trash the place. Last year, slob campers at Salmon Creek continued building illegal fires, even while choking on the smoke of their fellow slob camper’s Soberanes Fire.
So if you are planning to visit the Big Sur coast this summer, please be aware that:
There are no campgrounds (only backcountry trails steeply ascending into scorching hot, brushy terrain that swarms with biting flies) reachable by taking Highway One north from Ragged Point.
The narrow, winding Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd., which is now the only access to some portions of the coast, is not suitable for campers or other large vehicles at any time, and is currently too crowded and too infested with bad drivers to be safe for anyone.
No one is joking about the fire restrictions and fireworks prohibitions.
When it comes to carelessness with fire, the patience of the locals has definitely worn thin.