Fire has burned through one of the most scenic areas of California. (Check calendar.) And it’s still January.

The so-called Colorado Fire, which burned near Bixby Creek in Monterey County, was whipped by weekend winds until it became a major conflagration. The flames were apparently unconcerned by the fact that it’s still the dead of winter or that a lot of rain fell in December. It was yet another sign that fire season is every season.

The fire was shocking, burning up to the Bixby Bridge on Highway 1, as iconic a coastal shot as you’ll find on Instagram. It seemed almost immediately that firefighters pegged it at 1,500 acres. Better mapping dropped that to 700 acres, and, at this writing, the fire is 35 percent contained. Only one structure had been damaged, a yurt, but Cal Fire says a fire truck had been damaged in the fight.

Even though this fire is relatively modest by modern standards in the drought-stricken Western United States, the resources necessary to put out the fire were eye-opening. Nearly 300 firefighters, three helicopters and 22 engines were involved in the fight days after it began.

About 500 Monterey County residents were forced to evacuate.

Even the normally staid National Weather Service was awed by this fire, this time of year. It noted photos on social media that “suggest some pretty surreal fire behavior given the wet (months) observed across the region.” It went on to say the drought was the equivalent of a “chronic illness” that would not allow California wildlands to recover their resiliency.

Thankfully, though those same winds whipped the San Mateo County coast over the weekend, there were no raging wildfires here. It wasn’t an entirely tranquil time; many trees toppled. Cars were damaged and powerlines came down with branches.

And all this only one week after a tsunami advisory had the entire West Coast of the United States on edge.

There is no longer any denying that past patterns — including wet winters and mild, dry summers — are exactly that: patterns from the past. Thought insurers and government agencies still rely on data to determine “100-year storm events” and the like, it’s obvious that such calculations are no longer reliable. If the Bixby Bridge can be surrounded by fire in January, all bets are off.

It wasn’t so long ago that folks argued about whether climate change was real or a man-made mirage. No more. No less than the Environmental Protection Agency notes that, in California, heat waves are more common, snow is melting earlier, and water is scarce up and down the state. Sea level could rise as much as four feet in the next century, which threatens our roads and airports and leaves hundreds of thousands more people in the path of these ever-more-frequent 100-year floods.

The weekend fire in Monterey County is a bad omen amid so many others. We all must do what we can now to forestall future developments that could cause the promise of California to go up in flames.

— Clay Lambert

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(1) comment

Wallace Family

Dear Mr Lambert,

Thank you for your last two editorials. You are bringing forth THE important issue of our time. It is so easy to fill one’s mind with the daily necessities of life, complicated with Covid 19; and, the dramatic national and international stories. Thinking about the huge ill-defined problem is easy to avoid.

After thinking about your two writings, it seems that on the local level the issues are important, complex, and interrelated. I remember in the past you had a seniors’ page. Would it be possible to have a page devoted to the four themes which appear to make up the problem.

It could have many names. For example: “Coastside Resilience”. “Avoid Coastside Lunacy!”, “Resilience is Hope and Action”, “Our Grandchildren’s Future: Resiliency or Lunacy?”

The four themes are:

How do we notice Climate Crisis effects NOW? Why?

The impacts of the recent wind storm led to the Colorado fire, but also to my unobstructed view into my neighbor’s back yard, after our fence blew down. What have been the impacts of the king tides? Where is the erosion? How dangerous is it? Has there been flooding anywhere? What contribution has the climate changes had on these recent events? We have been enjoying the rain, but how are our aquifers?

Disaster Preparation:

CERT and CEAP are two existing organizations. What are they doing? Who is leading them? How can people become involved? What skills are needed? Chief Cogsgrave has been very pro-active in trying to help the area to be more resilient. What words of wisdom does he have for the general community, especially after the 2019 fires, and preparing now for a possible 2022 fire season.

Personal Resilience:

In your editorial, you mentioned plant based diets and choosing non fossil based fueled cars, and converting from gas to electricity now. Who has done it? What have they learned? What do they regret? Recently we have been trying to invest in a greywater system, as we are getting older and the buckets are getting heavier. Do you know that in the county of San Mateo, there are no company which creates and installs these systems?

Infructural Changes which are needed: For anyone who travels on Highway One between Montara and Half Moon Bay, it is clear that there are some days that the ocean is threatening to control the road. How long will it take for the ocean to claim that stretch? How long would it take to re-route Highway One further east? I assume that it would be a political nightmare because it would involve HMB city, county and state authorities, regulations etc. So, should we start now? Waiting until it is undermined is probably not wise. Perhaps there is already a plan. Perhaps it is high on the MCC agenda. But this is a good example of infrastructure which might benefit from community knowledge and participation.

An approach to any overwhelming problem is possible by breaking it up so that it can be better understood and faced. Only then can there be hope based on information and action.

Thanks for beginning the discussion.


MaryEm Wallace

El Granada

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