When the Dolan Fire began in Big Sur on the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 18, due to suspected arson, dozens of other fires were already burning across California from lightning strikes over the weekend, as well as the rest of the American West.
That has made firefighters and equipment difficult to come by, fire officials say, and in some cases, affected their strategy. In the rugged, steep and inaccessible terrain of Big Sur, firefighters are focused on "point protection," meaning they are defending homes and infrastructure rather than attempting to contain the Dolan Fire.
"We’re not able to do a lot of perimeter control on the fire right now," Fire Behavior Analyst Dennis Burns said in a public briefing on Friday night, Aug. 21. "Overall, strategy-wise we don’t have a lot of resources. This fire started after the big lightning bust. There’s just not a lot available, not only in California but nationally because of the other fires that are occurring. So what we’re focusing on is point protection."
The three priorities for point protection in the Dolan Fire are the Hermitage, Partington Ridge and Anderson Peak communications infrastructure.
In a briefing on Saturday morning, Aug. 22, Cal Fire Monterey-San Benito Unit Chief David Fulcher, who is overseeing the response to the Carmel and River fires, noted the resource challenge fire agencies are currently facing.
"We have over 13,700 firefighters on the front line. We have nearly two-dozen major fires and lightning complexes across the state, with over 12,000 lightning strikes, with over 100 occurring yesterday," Fulcher said. "Since Aug. 15, we’ve had 585 new fires burning for nearly a total of one million acres. That’s significant for us."
As of Saturday morning, the River Fire has burned 44,987 acres and is 12-percent contained; the Carmel Fire has burned 5,523 acres and is 5-percent contained.
the Dolan Fire is 10-percent contained and estimated to be 14,000 acres, though officials have not been able to get an accurate sense of its size from above, because smoke is too thick to send pilots up.
The Dolan Fire has been active mostly at night, Burns said. "At midnight, this fire gets extremely active, and it’s active until about 5 in the morning, and it’s really pushing our crews," he said.
Evacuation orders are in effect from Partington Ridge in the north to Lucia in the south.