Tassajara Fire — Too Close for Comfort

Tassajara Fire — Too Close for Comfort

While Jim Kachler of Parrot Ranch Pottery was loading his van after the Aptos Farmers Market ended on Saturday, September 19, he didn’t realize that the next 48 hours would be some of the most harrowing moments in his life.  

“I was driving down highway 68, getting ready to turn onto Laureles Grade and saw that the police were stopping everyone due to a fire that had broken out just down the road,” Jim explained recently. “When I got to the top of the grade I could see plumes of smoke from where I lived, so I stopped at the market in Carmel Valley Village and they told me that the area near my place was on fire and the police had the closed the road I normally take to get home. I was pretty scared.”

Sensing that his home, studio and outbuildings were threatened, Kachler knew of an old back road that was open and was able to avoid police road blocks to reach his property. His relief was short-lived. “We could see the fire across the valley and it was moving very fast.”

From his property on Parrot Ranch road, Kachler had a clear view of the rapidly approaching fire. Burning embers began to land around him. The tinder dry conditions brought on by the drought meant that he’d have to evacuate immediately if he wanted to save his own life. What happened next was almost miraculous.

“At that moment a massive jet flew by about eye level to my property, which is on a hill, flying very slowly and dropped fire retardant on the five homes just below me, effectively stopping the fire’s advance toward my home.”

Mark Shelley of Tassajara Natural Meats, whose home and meat locker were directly in the path of the approaching inferno, learned of the fire while he was relaxing at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

“I got a call saying that a fire had broken out, and if I wanted to save my home I’d better get there pronto,” said Shelley as he recalled the day. “The police had closed off Carmel Valley Road so I had to take a back road to get home.”

Once back on his property and with the power out due to the blaze, Shelley realized that not only could he lose his home but all of the meat he had in his storage locker, which contained “a ton” of butchered and frozen meat.  

Shelley instructed his partner Elizabeth to go get as much dry ice as she could find so they could put it into the locker to keep the meat frozen. Later that afternoon, laden with hundreds of pounds of dry ice, Elizabeth began to feel out of breath and her heart beat rapidly as if she had just been running.

“Turns out she had carbon dioxide poisoning from all of the CO2 the dry ice was giving off,” Shelly said with a nervous chuckle. After rolling down her car windows and recovering, Elizabeth arrived at the Tassajara property and the two loaded the dry ice into the locker. All of the meat was saved.

The aerial firefighters dropped the fire retardant with pinpoint precision on the front edge of the fast moving flames, sparing Shelly and his neighbors from certain destruction.

Both Kachler and Shelley have nothing but high praise for the firefighters. “Those guys really saved us,” said Shelley.

Here is a photo of the aftermath of the fire near Kachler’s home.