After five years of unrelenting drought in California, it was pretty much a safe assumption that the 2016 fire season would be one of the worst in recent memory. Although it’s only late July and the wildfire season still has many more months to run, that assumption has proven largely correct so far. Here on the Central Coast, the largest and most significant wildfire is the Soberanes Fire burning in the northern reaches of Big Sur in Monterey County.
The fire began in the Soberanes Canyon area in Garrapata State Park on July 22, 2016. As of today (July 27th), it’s already burned 23,688 acres, destroyed 20 homes, and, tragically, resulted in one fatality. The fire is currently only 10% contained, although hopefully this will improve quickly over the next few days. While the bulk of the fire is burning in the uninhabited Big Sur backcountry, the fire has nonetheless also resulted in numerous evacuation orders and warnings for residents in the area, including the southern portion of Carmel Highlands. Smoke from the fire has drifted over a large area, including down the Salinas River valley all the way to my home in Paso Robles – 85 miles away.
For hikers, campers, and other visitors, this is simply not a good time to come to Big Sur – at least not the northern part of the area. While Highway 1 and the many local businesses along it remain open, most state parks and a good portion of the Monterey Ranger District of the Los Padres National Forest are currently closed, and will probably remain so for quite a while even after the fire is fully contained.
Los Padres National Forest: There is an Emergency Closure Order for the Monterey Ranger District that covers all of the National Forest lands from the Pine Ridge Trail north to the northern boundary of the forest. Be sure to check the current Emergency Closure Order map before visiting.
California State Parks: ALL state parks between Point Lobos State Natural Reserve near Carmel and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to the south are currently closed, including the following:
- Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- Garrapata State Park
- Andrew Molera State Park
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- Point Sur Lighthouse State Historic Park
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
As with any wildfire, the situation on the ground can change rapidly and information is updated frequently. For the latest information, consult the following official sources:
Stan Russell’s Big Sur blog is also an excellent source and is updated frequently with the latest information.
Also, here’s an interactive map of the current fire perimeter:
Finally, I should note that the southern portion of Big Sur, including Limekiln State Park and the Silver Peak Wilderness, are currently open with no restrictions. While it’s unlikely that the Soberanes Fire will burn far south enough to affect these areas, the potential for a new fire can’t be ruled out. Call ahead to confirm the current conditions before your visit, and be sure to follow the current fire restrictions.