Pfeiffer Ridge Fire Journal

Our friends Jeff Mallory and his husband C. Kevin Smith are caretakers of the spectacular home and collection of the late great Big Sur artist Emile Norman, who was their dear friend. They spent several harrowing days a few weeks ago in the midst of the Pfeiffer Ridge fire as fire crews and neighbors fought to defend that home. Throughout the week, Jeff, who is an accomplished photographer, documented the devastation and aftermath on Facebook. We've collected some of his photos and posts, which together make a stunning photo essay and diary about the ordeal.

What happens next? Learn about the ecology of fire succession in this article by Desiree Loggins.

Photos and text by Jeff Mallory

Dec. 18: A quiet night with a rude awakening this morning that fire is just below Trotter's house on the Big Sur river side of Pfeiffer ridge. Totally, totally not good. But those big, beautiful red and green trucks just pulled into the yard.. our beloved fire-fighting cavalry!

Dec. 18: Much cooler temps, very little wind and fog. All good except the aircraft won't be in the air today because of the fog. Fire is now creeping along the highway 1 side of the ridge. All the concentration so far has been on the vast fire sweeping south and west on the ocean side of the ridge. This is pretty much a creeper fire so far, at least close to us, eating the duff as it goes. Sadly it melted our water line from the well (on the Big Sur river) up to the storage tanks by us. Lots of tanker trucks, though.

I'm a little freaked at this new front because we are very vulnerable from that direction and it is fighting fires in a forest (lots and lots of trees) instead of on the largely open chaparral of the last two days (at least by us). But the firefighters seem calm and feel things are well in hand, so that helps a lot.

Thanks for all the support and love, folks, it really makes a different to us and we are very grateful.

Dec. 18: An evening update. fire breaks are in place and crews are here overnight. Sky cleared enough this later afternoon to get away and take some damage photos before it got too dark. Wind has kicked up a few times already tonight, no rain yet, still supposed to come. Hoping for a calmer, restful night. Assessed our water system damage and parts are ordered for a rapid quick fix and an expensive longer fix: 2300 feet of new 2" pipe and a radio well-control system. The joys of owning your own water system...

Deep gratitude to the men and women of all the fire services, we've had trucks and folks from all over California (Lassen hotshots, Marina, Monterey, Seaside, San Bernadino, Santa Barbara are ones I remember). We are grateful for your calm (how can they be so nice when they are so tired?), your competence, generosity and courage. Sometimes all you can do is say Thank You!

Dec. 18: It's amazing what six hand crews and 15 engines can do! Built a fire break a quarter mile down the steeeeeep north slope of Pfeiffer Ridge, all the way to the Big Sur river. in a couple hours! then ran a hose line all the way down. awesome abilities and stamina.

With all this excellent firework today, we are likely out of the period of our greatest vulnerability. But 10-15mph N/NW winds are expected tonight as temps drop ~10 degrees. We may start unpacking the cars later today... what a relief!

Dec. 19: Gloriously clear, sunny day today after a very light but welcome splash of rain late last night. Pics from Clear Ridge, looking north/east across to Pfeiffer Ridge.

Lots of aircraft this morning doing hotspot mop-up (how would the New Yorker spell that?). Still some smolders. Most of the overnight crew left at 6am this morning but we still have a significant hand crew and truck/tanker presence.

Dec: 20: Thank you, Pfeiffer Fire fire fighters and all the locals who helped them!

I'm grateful for the calm expertise and good cheer every one of you showed me. I appreciate the confidence, courage and wise, wise experience you shared with us. I will never forget watching you dance flames around structures on Pfeiffer Ridge, like Night on Bald Mountain. I appreciate the deep craft and devoted skills you folks brought so easily to every task in this hand-intensive struggle. And with no significant casualties! Bless every one of your beautiful pea-pickin' little hearts for coming home safely to your loved ones while we come home with ours. Thank you.

Dec: 21: Exhausting day running fire hose to replace burned up water pipe. 700 feet of it but we have water delivery from our well again! Some flare-ups here and there but no overnight fire crews or trucks stationed here for the first time in four days!

Dec. 26: [See Buddha photo above]: ooking north/northeast from Clear Ridge back up to Emile's subdivision and upper Pfeiffer Ridge. The prominent house in the middle at the top of the incredibly incinerated broad ridge was a miraculous save. The house at the top of the fresh fire break in the left of the picture(running vertically) is Mike Trotter's house, Emile's longtime caretaker. Emile's house is to the left of Mike's house, somewhat buried in the trees, just short of the left (west) edge of the picture

Jan 2: Trudging up and down the mountainside fixing a 1000' section of water system cable feels like traveling through a strange Arctic wasteland. Every step sends up a bloom of fine, fine ash "fog" that hangs and hangs in the air. The utter beauty of impermanence.

Follow this link to visit Jeff Mallory's Facebook page.
Follow this link to see more of Jeff's photos from the Pfeiffer Ridge fire and its aftermath.

Find our more about Emile Norman, his art and his remarkable Big Sur home at the Emile Norman Charitable Trust.