Basin Complex Looking Like Marble-Cone Fire #2

Big Sur locals including Big Sur Fire Brigade Chief Frank Penny and Los Padres National Forest “fuel chief” Steve Davis expressed prophetic concerns in an interview with a local reporter in October 2006;
Chief Penny saw this coming;

““The area is screaming for more proactive prevention,” he says. “It’s very easy to do it, it’s just the will. There is a need for supplemental funding because of sudden oak {death}.
“It’s a crisis now. It just hasn’t become a political crisis because nobody’s been killed, nobody’s house has burned up, no roads have washed out.”

In 1977 90% of the Ventana Wilderness was scorched by the 178,000 acre Marble-Cone Fire.

Marble Cone was fed by dead limbs from unusual snow fall seasons before. The Basin Complex Fire is fed by “sudden oak death”, a plague decimating tan oaks in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. An example of sudden oak death can be seen in a webcam photo capture from the Big Sur webcam at Nepenthe Restaurant. Notice the dead tree in the center of the image.

The Marble-Cone Fire may have been fueled by dead limbs but the fire was actually surrounded by responding state and federal crews in the initial stages. My cousin was one of those firefighters who had the fire in check when they were ordered to put down their chain saws. An approaching bulldozer was stopped in its tracks. The fire was in a “Wilderness” and no mechanical equipment is allowed in a designated wilderness.

I’ll never forget my cousin shaking his head when he first told me this story. They had it stopped at 100 acres.

I’m not sure if an exemption was asked for or granted for this incident but you have to hope it was. As it stands tonight the fire is at 26,000 acres, 97% of which is uncontained fire line with multiple heads. The Ventana Wilderness is a precious resource.

The prophetic words of Chief Penny are coming back to haunt. The Angora Fire at Lake Tahoe last summer was fed by downed and dead trees. A debate continues who was at fault for not allowing clearing the deadwood. Two hundred fifty homes were lost there. Sixteen homes have been lost so far in Big Sur. One resident was told by a fire official the “big box” estimate for the Basin Complex is 250,000 acres.

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7 Comments

  • Thunderbird says:

    I was part of “Arkansas 1” and spent approx two weeks on MC starting in the area near the Tassajara Hot Springs and who knows where else we went. I know we only saw a very small part of it. We walked all one night on a good fire line built by a dozer till we found it at the bottom of a long, steep hill. Learned to sleep while sitting up. We saw miles of fire lines built by dozers, then it was all hand work where it was too rough or steep. Would love to find a website for MC fire fighters! Maybe someone will do one on Facebook or somewhere?? Did not take enough photos!!! Anyone know the name of that fire tower near the Tassajara Hot Springs road?

  • Anonymous says:

    I was lead saw on Tahoe 1 firecrew on the marbel cone fire, our crew was the point handline crew when we were told to stop the hand line in the wilderness area.we were close to completion of the line when we stopped and the wilderness was lost.Tahoe was one if not the most active crews on marbel cone.we were the best @ the time Leonard A

  • Mike says:

    Thanks for the comments guys. The true story of Marble-Cone cannot be found in writing anywhere.I have looked.Any suggestions?

  • Anonymous says:

    I was a fire-fighter on the Marble Cone fire in 1977. Our crew was stationed at Arroyo Seco which is on the east side of the Ventana Wilderness area. We were locals but on a fire in Santa Barbara when Marble Cone started but we came home immediately.At the time in 1977, I heard that a logging(?) crew with dozer and chainsaws were near the lightning strike but were booted as it was inside the wilderness area. Never confirmed it then, but I have heard this repeated over the years by local firefighters and loggers who were in business back then.

  • Anonymous says:

    I was there at that fire in 1977 with the California National Guard. Very bad but for all the wrong reasons. Seems there was a question of jurisdiction, who was going to get the money for being in charge. It was in California and CDF wanted jurisdiction but it is a national forest so US Forest service wanted jurisdiction, by the time it was sorted out the fire was out of control. Maybe thats why your cousin’s crew had to stop in their tracks??

  • Nick says:

    I lived in Jamesburg during Marble Cone .I saw,Local,State and National firefighters,then the National Guard, go up the Tassajara road before they got a handle on that one.Would have been nice to have stopped it at 100 acres.My moms still there and my sisters at Esalen.Thanks for the blog !Pray for rain.

  • G says:

    Your allegation that no mechanical equipment, including bulldozers, are allowed to fight fire in wilderness is unfounded. Chainsaws and bulldozers were used extensively to fight the fire. The MC fire was ignited by lightning on Pine Ridge, many miles from the nearest road. The helitack crew that normally would have quickly responded was down south on another fire.