First — the good news. It is Sunday morning, August 28 and after 10 days of heavy firefighting activity in the backcountry, I think it is safe to say that the Rey Fire is heading into mop-up mode. However just last Monday it seemed like the fire might never end.
The word out from fire command was that the raging front that had pushed through Camuesa Canyon on Sunday was beyond Camuesa Peak but had hung up in the narrow part of the lower canyon. Apparently that was enough to keep the fire in check enough that when cooling evening temperatures and low humidity appeared, the advance was stopped on the east face of the peak.
Monday morning I headed out with a number of the engine crews into the upper Santa Ynez Recreation area, where several score of engine crews and a boatload of dozers were making their way to Pendola Station to wait further orders. The goal was to contain the fire west of Mono Creek and if lucky even further west in Indian Canyon.
The morning started out with the beautiful sight of canyon after canyon, and ridge after ridge filled with low lying smoke — what looked more like a picturesque backcountry scene — than one that could burst into flames at any moment.
Near 8AM there were only a few small wisps of smoke rising into the sky, one near Cmamuesa Peak and the other further north in Buckhorn Canyon. The drive in the the upper Santa Ynez River area is both slow and jaw-hammering bumpy and it takes an hour just from the crest to reach Pendola. At each viewpoint along the road I could see that the column of smoke near Buckhorn was building and by the time I’d reached Pendola I could see the fire there was fully out of control and heading east.
With the fire moving east and slightly to the north I was able to make my way past Mono Debris Dam, the turnoff to Little Caliente Canyon and then past the Indian Creek trailhead and up Camuesa Road to the point where I reached yesterday’s burn area. The sight was devastating — a canyon turned from heavy chaparral and oak into mineral spoon in the space of perhaps 8 hours.
Scarier was how close the lower edge of the fire had come to the Santa Ynez River. The fire had indeed gotten caught up in a very rocky, narrow section of canyon that was just a half mile from the river. Had the fire advanced just a few hundred yards further it almost certainly would have continued to the river given the dead brush and light grasses along lower Camuesa Creek. Catastrophe avoided …. barely.
By mid-afternoon it was clear that the advancing front would reach Indian Creek and cross over to the slopes leading to Pie Canyon and then beyond that Mono Creek. As I headed back to a viewpoint just below the Debris Dam, I joined a number of the firefighters in watching what by then was a raging firestorm jump Indian Creek and within less than 5 minutes burn its way up to the crest. It appeared the fire was on its way into Mono Creek.
My note: this is the last of a series of blogs on the fire itself. I hope to be able to drive through the area in the next few days to assess conditions.