The sediment that could run off into streams and rivers due to the burn was estimated to be 13,440 cubic yards per square mile.
The USGS executive report -- well after the fire was extinguished -- asserted that the "greatest threat are to life and property from increased erosion and sedimentation, flooding potential, rockfall, and increased debris flow potential." That having been said, the USGS report went on to explain that "given the slope steepness, vegetative recovery, and amount of potentially treatable acreage within a sub-watershed there are no land treatments (hillslope treatments)" that could possibly be "effectively implemented" in order to provide cover to help reduce soil erosion. In other words, when the rains fall in winter -- as they do every winter season from roughly December to April -- there will certainly be rockslides, mudslides, and potential flash flooding as well.
It should be mentioned that the rugged terrain east of the Pacific Ocean made it difficult for firefighters to dig in and create firebreaks. The fire took place on the Central Coast of California, a hundred or so miles south of San Francisco and about 350 miles north of Los Angeles. There are some rural housing units scattered throughout this vast mostly undeveloped wilderness area, and there is a Buddhist retreat that was threatened by the roaring flames. Also, along the western edge of the fire there is scenic Highway 1, a narrow, windy and very popular route between San Luis Obispo and the Bay Area; the fire burned right down to Highway 1, which was closed for most of the time the fire raged.
Also shut down were numerous state and private campgrounds and parks. Hiking trails were closed for a minimum of one year after the fire so park staff could clear debris and rocks from the trails, making them safe.
Endangered California Condors saved: Many California Condors had been released in the Big Sur / Ventana Wilderness area over the preceding ten years. The fire drove many of the adults out of the Ventana Wilderness, however, a large "fly pen" deep in the wilderness area (17 miles off Highway 1) held seven juvenile condors and one adult. Condors' wingspan at adulthood can reach up to nine and a half feet across. The birds were all but extinct until the late 1980s, when the last dozen or so were captured and taken into captivity for breeding purposes. Many millions of dollars had been spend on this California Condor Recovery Project, so the investment needed to be protected. But moreover, those in the Ventana Wildlife Society -- the group that administers the Big Sur area condor recovery program -- were not about to let their prized endangered birds be scorched to death by this fire.
As it came closer (within a mile of the fly pen) a desperate plan was hatched to save the birds. According to a story (later published in the Reader's Digest) by journalist a.J.S. Rayl, biologist Joe Burnett was able to find a helicopter among the Coast Guard assets, and though the pilot had to negotiate around the flames and through billowing clouds of acrid smoke, the helicopter was able to land about a mile from the fly pen. From there, rescuers got aboard ATV and hustled to the site to save the birds. One by one the birds were caught and loaded into big kennel cages and transported down to the helicopter. One load took off and moved the condors to safety, and the helicopter returned for the second load. When the helicopter took off with the last of the endangered condors, the mission had been accomplished.
Conclusion: There is no way for a state that is bone dry through spring, summer and fall to avoid wildfires. But once a big fire is started in California, all available assets and manpower must be assembled quickly, and calls for help to nearby states must be made. Still, the danger to lives, homes, communities and wildlife is always going to require special measures to mitigate.
Rayl, a.J.S. (2008). Flight from the Fire: A Dramatic Condor Rescue. Reader's Digest.
Retrieved July 5, 2010, from http://www.rd.com.
United States Geological Survey. (2008). Executive Summary: Basin Complex Fire/Indians
Fire / BAER Initial Assessment. Retrieved July 6, 2010, from http://www.ca.water.usgs.gov/webcams/bigsur/09_22_basini_2500-8redacted-pdf.