Photo Tour of Backcountry Areas Affected by the Basin Complex Fire

View from Castro Slope near the top of the Coast Ridge looking toward the spot where the Gallery Fire would be ignited by lightning 13 days later. This photo was taken on June 8, just a couple of hours after the Indians Fire ignited. The haze in the background is actually smoke already drifting from that fire. Photo by Cynthia Hertlein

Smoke turns the light orange along Partington Creek only a few days after the Indians Fire began. Many parts of Partington Canyon were severely burned. Photo by Jon Iverson of

Within hours of igniting, the fire raced across these open fields on the top of the Coast Ridge and entered the wilderness to the east. Photo taken in February 2008.

Looking down on upper Partington Ridge – one of the most heavily damaged neighborhoods. Photo from 1975.

Swiss Camp, in Partington Canyon. Redwood forests are usually fine in fires, but we’re worried about this one after the incredible concentration of heat that the thermal imaging satellites picked up here. These groves, unfortunately, were surrounded by thick stands of dead, tinder-dry tanbark oaks. SOD killed tanbarks fueled the fire in many places. Photo from 2003.

The marine layer played a crucial role in slowing the progress of the fire at lower elevations – particularly in keeping it away from the more heavily developed zone along Highway One. Just about everything in this view (from McWay Canyon south) was burned over by the fire. The photo was taken in February 2008.

Kandelbinder Peak, the Window and the Ventana Double Cone, as seen from the back side of Logwood Ridge. Everything in this photo was burned over. Photo from 1986.

The top of Pine Ridge (near where the Basin Fire ignited) was still heavily forested when this pre-Marble Cone Fire photo was taken in 1976. The forest was badly damaged by the intensity of the Marble Cone burn. Then the weakened forest took another hit from the Kirk Complex Fire in 1999. Unfortunately, the young trees that sprouted after the Kirk Complex were probably not mature enough to survive even a relatively cool fire.

The brush on the side of Pine Ridge comes back quickly after fires. This photo was taken in 1995, only a few years (we think – when was the Cienega Fire?) after the Cienega Fire.

1976 view of Lost Valley. The fire burned throughout this area.

This photo, taken just just a few weeks before the fire began, shows the view across the Little Sur Basin. The Ventana Double Cone is the peak at the left end of the high ridge in the background and Kandelbinder Peak is the mountain on the right. The notch of the Window can be seen between them. The fire spilled over this high ridge to enter the Little Sur watershed.

Brushy Launtz Ridge provides a perfect highway for wildfires seeking to cross the Little Sur Basin. The Basin Complex Fire moved rapidly down this ridge on the night of June 28th. Ending up in the lower left hand corner of this photo (a location that overlooks the Pico Blanco Boy Scout Camp). It’s progress down the hill to the camp, on the other hand, was extremely slow. This picture was taken from the summit of Pico Blanco in 1976.

The South Fork Little Sur as seen from Pico Blanco in 1976. The high points on the right are Manuel Peak and Post Summit.  The Big Sur Valley is just on the other side of this ridge. The “big box” dozer line follows the ridge over these summits, then drops down the lower ridge in the foreground to cross the river. The fire jumped the fire line in this area, then burned over the summit of Pico Blanco.

View of the Big Sur Gorge from the summit of the Double Cone. The north end of the Coast Ridge is on the left and the back side of Mt. Manuel is on the right. The fire also jumped the line at the end of the Coast Ridge and burned downhill into the Gorge and Post Creek. Three homes were destroyed near Post Creek. Photo from 1995.

The long ridge from the summit of the Double Cone to the Puerto Suello saddle and Uncle Sam Mtn. The fire burned spectacularly along this ridge on July 2, spilling over the side into the Lone Pine and Ventana Mesa Creek watersheds (tributaries of the Carmel River). Launtz Ridge is visible again on the right. Another 1976 view from Pico Blanco.

Lone Pine Creek descends steeply to Ventana Mesa Creek and the Carmel River. The fire worked its way down this drainage in fits and starts – probably leaving large patches unburned.

The tranquil North Fork Little Sur River – home of hummingbirds, lions and naiads. The northern edge of the fire took many days to creep through this comparatively cool and humid canyon.

The Point at Pat Spring (just a few weeks before the fire began) with Pico Blanco in the background. The fire reached this location on July 10.

View of the ocean from the Coast Ridge? No, view of the sky from Church Creek. The fire lingered at the edge of this watershed for over a week, but eventually burned through in a hurry. Photo from 1987.

Church Creek scenery. Photo from 1987.

It doesn’t take much ….

Only a few hours after the lightning strikes an impressive amount of smoke was already rising.

18 Responses to Photo Tour of Backcountry Areas Affected by the Basin Complex Fire

  1. "Z" says:

    Thank you for this…although it makes me sad and want to cry. I lived on the Monterey Peninsula from 1965 to 2001; Big Sur a great deal of that time (65-85 solid) and Carmel Valley part of that time (Cachagua area)…so I am a ‘veteren’ of some of the big fires that have happened in the area. None have affected me like this one.

    It feels to me that this fire is taking a larger toll than any I’ve expereinced before. Perhaps the loss of so many historical homes is affecting me that way…but I also think of all this beauty burned…so many times over the years…and with the tree diseases, etc….well…it’s heart-breaking.

    So I am so grateful for the beauty in your photos…I think it will be a while before it is seen in these places again. A lot of healing is necessary now and will be after the fire is ‘over’.

    Tzila “Z” Duenzl

  2. Linda Jensen says:

    I have been camping almost every year since 1985, first with college buddies, then my husband, and now our 12 year old twin girls. I have been frustrated trying to find out where the fire is each day and where it has burned. The photos in this series showed the areas that are gone. Many of them I know. This is absolutely devistating! The Big Sur area is our favorite place on earth, It is so beautiful and nurturing. We are scheduled to camp in the Big Sur State Park campground beginning July 5th. The park is currently closed. I cannot cancel my reservations yet. I keep hoping for a miracle. We are anxious to see for ourselves what the fire has taken.

    Our firefighters are heros. They are making tough decisions and fighting hard. You guys are fabulous! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Hi to firefighter David Boyce. Thanks for the info.
    I hope all you guys can get some rest soon.
    Linda Jensen

  3. steve beck says:

    great photos!!! loved seeing the back side of mnt manuel.
    thanks so much for the pictures and all the information during the fire.

  4. MikeM says:

    Great photo collection. Beautiful country.

  5. Jil Van Alstine says:

    I am a native California who fell profoundly in love with Big Sur since camping here in the 50’s – During high achool years we camjped the back of Limekiln and clilmbed up the waterfall to bathe – During college years we would come down and hang out at hot springs -always heading for the baths at midnight. (pre-Esalen days).

    While raising my family we camped and hiked all over Big Sur in all kinds of weather. My grown son still talks about climbing up the Gorge, swimming under the icy water to lie on the boulders to get warm, he would leave us on the rocks and drop off the rope swing for hours. We often saw only one or two people up there, often coming down the Gorge from the back at the end of a pack-in.

    For some years my family has been grown and now I visit for a romantic redezvous, or, more frequently , we have ‘girls’ only outing. We stay in we sleep in real beds by the river, and eat at restaurants, go the HML buy books see what going on. Nepenthe at sunset from the deck, take hikes in the morning, or sometimes just in chairs in river and let the day role healingly by. Big Sur was last ‘outing’ I took with my 89 yr old mom before she died, we sat on deck at Nepenthe in the afternoon and held hands and watched the hawks.

    I am so grateful for your photo’s and sad for the land (and every thing that grows on it or lives on it. ) I have lived with wildfires my entire life but this one is grabbing my heart hard.

    I am knocked out by the wretchedly hard,hot and dangerous work being so vigorously by all the firefighters,Locals Volunteers and Visiting Teams alike. Many Blessings.
    Maitri, Jil

  6. Anneliese says:

    Great post – so informative! Thank you so much for taking the time to explain the area affected – I may have some familiarity, but my mind struggles to grasp the reality, and your post really makes it clear. =]

  7. Paul Danielson says:

    This is a terrirfic photo gallery for some of the best views and places in the Ventana. I share the grief expressed above. However, these photos will keep some good memories alive. Thank you.

  8. Lisa Gering says:

    Such beautiful photos of stupendously beautiful Big Sur.
    Living on the South Coast during these fires is frustrating knowing the “facts” of the fire but not really being involved in the fire. We’re not seeing it, just experiencing the smoke and ash and anxious to hear the daily reports that no more homes have been lost. It reminds me of 911 in the sadness I feel for what’s happening. I know I will be shocked once I actually see the devastation.
    Thank you for taking the time to share the photos with us. Lisa

  9. Bill Garner says:

    Big Sur is my favorite place on earth. I am in tears thinking about the devastation. I pray there will not be overwhelming destruction. I keep hoping for miracles. Thank you for the photos and informaton. I am so thankful to the firefighters for saving the Henry Miller Library. We do not really know how difficult it is for them but we cheer them on and hope they get some needed rest.

  10. Ken Peterson says:

    I began hiking the Ventana Wilderness in 1980 — three years after the Marble Cone fires. There were dead snags standing, and downed trees killed by the fire that burned nearly 200,000 acres. There were also abundant signs of new life as vegetation re-sprouted. Within a few years, some of the trails were near-impassable as brush returned abundantly.

    I have many friends in Big Sur, and I worry about the safety of their homes each day the fires continue. I’m also confident that the landscape will recover as it did after Marble Cone so that we can again enjoy some of the most amazing backcountry on Earth.

  11. Paul Danielson says:

    Once again I am profoundly grateful to you for the images and information you provide. They enable us to be connected and not hopelessly in the dark. Thanks!!!

  12. Peter Garin says:

    Men will live, and men will die…. but Earth abides…

    Short term, smoke, ash, and cinders. In the long term, part of nature’s normal process. Certain species need fire to sprout seedlings, and it will be a time of change and new beginnings.

    I do worry for the “locals” and what will happen with this coming winter rain.

    Flooding I suspect, and a lot of sediment, but that’s how nature works, ebb and flow, the cleansing of flash floods, and renewal.

    One would hope people’s personal traumas are minimal and they receive the help and encouragement to get through this rough time.

    Thanks again to the Volunteers, Rangers and Hot Shot Crews for all their help.

  13. Cynthia Hertlein says:

    I have a good photo of the coast that I would like to send to you. It was taken the day the Indians fire started. As we looked down the coast, the breeze from the east was bring smoke out to the coast and we knew that a fire had started somewhere, not imagining how huge it would become! If you let me know how , I’ll e-mail the photo to you.
    Your site has become the best current source for us to keep abreast of the fire’s progress. Current information has been hard to come by and you are performing a tremendous service. Thank you!
    Carmel Valley

    — Photo Now Posted Above! —

  14. Pete says:

    I fought the Marble Cone fire in 1977 with the Forest Service. Most of our work was by hand due to the Wilderness designation for the area. When we connected the perimeter lines we were just above Carmel.
    It was an awful fire, with lots of poison oak problems for the firefighters and very dense brush.
    I was not from California but I sure grew to respect the ability of the California fire fighters.

  15. maryanne deering says:


  16. Marc Matheson says:

    Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

    Thank you for coming to Big Sur and learning about the Basin Complex fire. We need your help. There are not enough firefighters or equipment to do the job, and so Big Sur residents are risking their lives to protect homes and businesses. There are many volunteers ready and willing to assist in the effort but they are not being utilized. Please help by marshalling more personnel and equipment – such as large tanker airplanes – and by incorporating local resident volunteers into this effort.

    Our gratitude goes out to the firefighters who have and continue to do wshat they can. Together, we can do this!

    Thank you!

  17. Suzanne Schettler says:

    I am looking for before and after photos of Stone House. There were some online during the fires last summer, but they seem to have disappeared. I am preparing a talk on fire-resistant landscaping, and the photos illustrated some useful concepts about landscaping.

    The link is on our Fire/Flood/Weather Etc. Links Page. The URL is:

  18. I have a number of B&W photos I took of the Stone House (above Lafler Canyon)in 1967. They have been scanned and I could send you a few of them in medium resolution (for non-commercial use only and with credit).

    Best regards,

    Sterling Doughty
    Adliswil, Switzerland

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