Firefighters battling the Dolan Fire find themselves in a fight for their lives.
It was only yesterday that I was reading news about dangerous rescues in the Creek Fire, burning near Shaver Lake, and thinking it sounded beyond apocalyptic—the kind of scenario that if you pitched it as part of a movie, a producer might tell you was too unrealistic and you should cut it.
Then this morning at about 8:30am, that kind of impossibly awful disaster scenario struck in Big Sur, where the Dolan Fire doubled in size in the past day, with hot conditions and a shift in winds. Spot fires started more than half a mile away, Incident Commander Rob Allen said today in a briefing.
Fourteen firefighters stationed at the top of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road faced fast-moving flames. Before they had time to get out of the way, they were forced to deploy their emergency fire shelters. The fire jumped the paved road, destroyed the fire station, and seriously injured three of the firefighters, who were life-flighted to Fresno for treatment. As of 2:45pm Tuesday, one remained in critical condition, and two of them are fair. The other 11 in the group were on their way to somewhere with air conditioning in King City to debrief.
“Fire shelter” might imply something like a structural shelter, but it’s really just a sack, leaving little between the entrapped human inside of it and the fire outside, providing limited protection from heat and smoke. (To get a sense of what these shelters are like, I watched a how-to-deploy video from the National Wildfire Coordinating Council.)
The Dolan Fire likely started due to an equally unbelievable act of arson, with a suspect who also told authorities about five homicide victims allegedly at the source of the fire.
While it all feels like a freak situation, wildfires across the West are now the norm. We are seeing in real time some of the effects of the climate crisis, still a slowly developing series of disasters yet to unfold, but freak weather events are indeed part of the broader trend.
The U.S. Forest Service is expecting additional support to fight the Dolan Fire, but as the Rocky Mountains face an early-season snowstorm—speaking of freak weather events—helicopters headed our way today had to turn back in the snow, according to Allen.
Large areas on all sides of the fire are under evacuation advisories, meaning you should pack essentials and be prepared to leave. To stay up to date, check the county Office of Emergency Services’ webpage and sign up for alerts. And stay safe out there.
-Sara Rubin, editor, firstname.lastname@example.org