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As many of you know, California has been on fire for the past few weeks. I live in John Steinbeck country – Salinas, and the smoke has only just started to recede. The fires near me were caused by lightning strike and while there was still much damage done, at least there is comfort in the fact that these fires were not, shall we say, man-made.

But, further down the coast is another story. Near Big Sur, there is a fire still raging, the Dolan fire. This fire sadly is suspected arson. To make matters worse, it burned right through the Condor’s Big Sur Sanctuary.

As of Saturday, nine condors were still missing in the Big Sur Condor Range, and four nesting chicks are not accounted for, according to Kelly Sorenson, Ventana Wildlife Society’s (VWS) executive director.

“Our hopes remain high that we’ll locate the other birds,” Sorenson said in a phone interview on Friday. Most of the missing condors do not have GPS technology, but they do have what Sorenson calls “FM radio” devices attached to their wings.

Like most birds, condors instinctively fly away from fire, Sorenson said. But since condors only fly in daylight, they are particularly at risk during a night-time blaze.

“If they pick a spot to roost, and the wind direction changes, and their spot is covered with smoke, and the fire comes upon them before sunrise, you could see how they would be vulnerable. Even though when they went to sleep the fire was nowhere near them.”

The Dolan Fire — reportedly the work of an arsonist — started a mile south of the Big Sur condor sanctuary on Tuesday, Aug. 18. On Thursday, Aug. 20, one of the live condor cams recorded the sight of fire approaching the nest cavity (in a giant redwood tree), where baby condor “Iniko” (hatched on April 25) is being raised.

On Friday, Aug. 21, the fire burned through the sanctuary, and the second condor cam stream was cut off.

Regarding the chances of the four nesting chicks surviving, Sorenson notes that over the past 20 years, “six condor chick nests were subjected to wildfire, and five survived the experience.”

Though the condor population was down to just 22 birds in the mid-1980s, thanks to the California Condor Recovery Program’s captive breeding agenda, 101 condors are now flying free in Central California’s Big Sur/Pinnacles flock — and 200 condors total are living in the wild in California.

The Ventana Wildlife Society has launched a fundraising campaign to “Rebuild the Condor’s Big Sur Sanctuary.” The goal is to raise $500,000 “to continue our work restoring this magnificent species,” according to the VWS website. Those who donate will become members of the VWS, and some donations will receive invitations to member-only events and field trips.

There’s also a 10-day online silent auction that people can bid on. To that end, I am hoping the Ventana Wildlife Society will except my donantion of the painting posted at the top. I just completed this piece a couple of months ago, titled, Big Wave, it’s 3 feet by 6 feet. If they do except my humble gesture, I hope it will bring a tidy sum for their fund.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will match private gifts through the end of 2020. All donations are tax-deductible.

For more information on the auction go here:

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