As of 6 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31, when Cal Fire officials deemed the nearly three-week-long Chimney Fire to be 85 percent contained, they said odds were good there’d be 100 percent containment by Saturday, Sept. 3.
Variable wind and weather conditions during the siege that began Aug. 13 made the raging wildfire erratic and extreme.
By early Wednesday, the blaze had consumed 46,344 acres between San Simeon, Lake Nacimiento and Fort Hunter Liggett, destroying several historic and other rural North Coast cabins and leaving behind scorched hillsides, canyons, valleys and flatland.
Hearst Castle resumed public tours on Monday, Aug. 29. Officials had closed the state park to the public Aug. 20 because of heavy smoke on the hilltop and imminent threat from the fire itself, which came within 2 miles of the historic house museum.
The Chimney Fire also blackened more than 20 percent of Hearst Ranch’s 82,000 acres, according to estimates Monday, Aug. 29, from Ben Higgins, the ranch’s director of agricultural operations.
The acreage estimate was included in an update Higgins sent to Stephen Hearst, family heir and vice president of Hearst Corp., and others.
California Rangeland Trust holds an extensive conservation easement on the vast property. Trust officials said in 2014 that the property includes “one of California’s most diverse assemblies of native plants and natural habitats, including more than 1,000 plant and wildlife species.”
Meanwhile farther north, by early Aug. 31, the monster Soberanes Fire near Big Sur had flamed across 93,714 acres since July 22. That fire had initially blanketed the North Coast of San Luis Obispo County with pungent, heavy smoke.
New evacuation warnings were issued as a precaution Sunday, Aug. 28, for a small area of Big Sur, including along a stretch of Highway 1, because increased winds were forecast in the area. Three area state parks remained closed.
U.S. Forest Service officials said Tuesday, Aug. 30, that black smoke from the blaze was visible from Highway 1 and Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park. According to the Facebook page for the service and Los Padres National Forest, http://bit.ly/2bz7olF, “The fire is burning pockets of unburned fuel in the river drainage and is not threatening containment lines at this point. Four helicopters are en route to drop water on the active fire to guide it down the river drainage. The increased activity is a result of increased winds and low relative humidity.”
Officials estimated the Sobranes wildfire, which was then burning south in national forest lands and into Big Sur River drainage areas, might continue to burn for another month.
The Soberanes and Chimney fires were estimated to be about 39 miles apart Tuesday, Aug. 30.
Stress and anxiety
As real and perceived threats to the North Coast from the Chimney Fire began to wane in the last week of August, residents’ feelings of anxiety about the situation also should have begun to diminish.
But a body’s “fight, flight or freeze” reaction to extreme stress doesn’t always shut down that quickly, according to psychologist Steve Brody of Cambria, and the physical and emotional reactions from weeks of smelling smoke and seeing plumes of smoke isn’t helping.
Just telling yourself to relax can make things worse.
So, many people in the area have found themselves suffering from enduring symptoms of anxiety.
Among those, according to www.mayoclinic.org, can be exhaustion, sleep problems, ongoing headache, stomach upset, muscle tension and pain, a racing mind and a body that’s unable to calm down.
And that’s perfectly normal, Brody said in phone and email interviews. “Anxiety is a really common emotion. When we’re threatened, we worry. In this case, there’s a reason to be anxious, a continuing threat in the environment,” one over which we have little control.
Brody and wife Cathy, who live on rural Santa Rosa Creek Road, understand fire-related stress. They live it. Son Matt Brody of Cambria is a Santa Barbara County firefighter, based in Orcutt, who has worked two weeks on the Sobranes Fire and two weeks on the Chimney Fire.
How does one cope with anxiety, “so it doesn’t overwhelm and overtax us?” Steve Brody asked.
His suggestions include everything from planning ahead, singing in the shower and dancing in the living room to acknowledging that the sky really isn’t falling yet, Chicken Little.
Brody’s other recommendations include:
▪ “Accept that it’s normal to be anxious when genuinely threatened, so accept some degree of worry.
▪ “What you think creates how you feel,” he said, so “dispute irrational fears … don’t ‘awfulize’ or ‘catastrophize’ ” the situation, making it worse than it really is.
▪ “Control what you can” and concentrate on that, he advised. For instance, you can’t put out the fire yourself, but you can be prepared (“ready, set, go,” as firefighters recommend). “Have an evacuation plan, and let go of what you can’t control.”
▪ Limit your exposure to repetitive news. “Information is empowering; rumination is not.
▪ “Exercise is always a winner. It helps prevent biochemical hijacking.
▪ “Journaling can help sort through feelings.
▪ “Socializing, because friends can literally be good medicine.
▪ “Distraction is helpful,” including gardening, reading, games and such.
And, whenever possible, laugh. Play a goofy game with friends. Flip through those old Calvin and Hobbes or New Yorker cartoons. Watch a funny show, video or movie. Reread an Erma Bombeck or George Carlin book, or whatever makes you chuckle. Remember, when it comes to destressing, giggling is good, but belly laughs are better.
How to find out more
The Cambrian has taken to social media to keep readers updated, sometimes hourly, during the Chimney Fire. Because some people have indicated that they, too, want the updates, but don’t use Facebook, Twitter or other social media, the paper has begun an email group to which the latest news is sent. To sign up, send contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.