Sunday, June 29, 2008

Henry Miller Memorial Library Fire Threat

“We are experiencing a severe wildfire.”
These words were posted on the front page of the website for the Henry Miller Memorial Library this week. Lightening and dry, windy conditions are being blamed for wildfires that have been fanning out across seven counties in California including Monterey, where Big Sur and the Library are located.

Some encouraging news was posted on the website at 5 PM on Thursday, June 26th: “A lot of fire suppression efforts, using ground crews and helicopter support, has brought the fire under control and left the Library itself unhurt. Crews are still on location monitoring potential flare-ups. It feels good.”

Lisa Kreiger of San Jose's Mercury News reported on June 27th that the flames had “reached the edge of the library, but were beaten back.” She also reported that the local Post Ranch Inn offered use of its “underground concrete storage unit” for safe keeping of the irreplaceable Miller documents and painting that it has in its possession.

A still from video taken by The Mercury News, which may be viewed on-line.

A benefit for the HMM Library, presented by comedian Rob Schneider, was postponed this weekend due to the fire.

On June 28th, the National Interagency Coordination Center reported that “33 large fires” were continuing to burn in California, while the L.A. Times said that the total fires numbered around 1,000. By Saturday night, wrote the Times, the threatening fires around the Basin near Big Sur grew by 3,062 acres and “was only 3% contained.” President Bush declared that a region of the western U.S., in which the HM Memorial Library is located, is now a national disaster area. But the San Francisco Chronicle assures us that the HMM Library is okay: “To the south, firefighters were steering the Big Sur fire away from populated areas and parallel to the coast. The famed Henry Miller library and several other businesses and dwellings appear to have escaped the fire, which has destroyed 16 homes.”

By 8:30 PM on Saturday, the HMM Library remained closed to the public, while most business in Big Sur were already re-opening (ref). But, today (Sunday the 29th), the HMM Library website has updated their message to assure everyone that “the library is OK.”

Helicopters quelling fire around the Library (source: "Stan"/KUSP website)

Contrary to some erroneous reporting in the media, the Henry Miller Memorial Library was never actually Miller’s home, although he did live nearby for 18 years. He lived on Partington Ridge for most of his time in Big Sur. On a website created to provide community updates on the blaze (, Karuna Licht reported around dinner time on Saturday that “The path of the fire hit Partington Ridge and is still burning. This was Henry Miller’s perch, the place where he wrote Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.” Magnus Torén—director of the HMM Library—reports on the HMM Library MySpace page that “Partington Ridge is not yet safe, there remains a threat from the canyon below. Thanks to the very cool weather on the coast the fire moves very slowly – everyone is praying for continued cool weather so that 'mop up' ‘burn out’ and ‘back burn’ operations can continue.”

Also on that page, Magnus gives us reason to be optimistic: “I believe it is safe to say that the Library is saved. The canyon behind has burned almost to the back deck. on the hillsides on both sides the fire has in some places burned all the way down to the library grounds, less than 40 feet away from the building. We were down there last night around midnight, met with the fire crew stationed there for monitoring the remaining burning embers, had a chat, then left feeling confident that the Library would remain safe. The firefighters, and a helicopter shuttle going up and down from the ocean, saved the Library.”

Good luck out there.

To view a live webcam of the smoke rising above Big Sur, from the vantage point of Nepenthe, visit the website for the Nepenthe Restaurant.

See video reports of the efforts to save the Library at Associated Press (YouTube copy archived here).

For updated reports on the fire, visit,,,, and the U.S. Forest Service press releases.

Above left: Firefighter at the Library (c) Patrick Tehan/Mercury News).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been following this in the media, and on the website, with dread and hope. It sounds like the library is safe. But I wonder how many years until Big Sur itself has recovered?

Good to have you back, RC.

3:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad to say the air conditioner was too good to be true. Miller had his suspicions rightfully so. More wildfires and more conditioners. A lot of carbon in the air!

1:35 am  
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