Crest Canyon lightning fire a wake-up call

In my 40 years in and around Del Mar, the boom of thunder has been rare and the flash of lightning even rarer. Part of the charm of our “perfect weather” is that we hardly ever have thunderstorms. Such displays occur in the nearby mountains and in the desert beyond. But not here on the benign coast.

Until recently. Amid several days of anomalous thunderstorms, a lightning strike on the western wall of Crest Canyon ignited a fire at 6:20 a.m. Saturday, July 18. Jan Savage, who lives on the eastern rim of the canyon, saw the fire, took a photo (Del Mar Times, July 23), and phoned for help. Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about an hour.

The lightning fire was a wake-up call for Del Mar and Del Mar Hills. Any fire that starts in Crest Canyon is a threat to adjacent neighborhoods. In this case, the heavy rains dampened the spread of the fire. But during the dry season, an illegal campfire or a carelessly tossed cigarette could spark a fire that would threaten homes near the canyon.

I visited the fire site yesterday, about halfway down the western slope. Lightning had struck one of two magnificent Torrey pines standing perhaps 50 feet tall and 20 feet apart with their branches intermingled. Both trees were badly scorched, but both probably will survive.

To view the fire site, find the trailhead at the intersection of Crest Road and Hoska Drive in Del Mar. Walk an easy 60 yards east on the trail. Look downhill to your right for the best view of the burned trees, two tall redheads towering over the green surround and the buff-colored sandstone.

Don’t walk over to the trees. The ground is steep and uneven and vulnerable to erosion.

You also can see the burned trees across the way from the two eastern entrances to Crest Canyon Park, one near the intersection of Durango and Lozana, the other near the north end of Recuerdo.

Crest Canyon is a neighborhood open-space park for Del Mar and Del Mar Hills, but also a great regional treasure, with hiking and running trails framed by orange sandstone walls and studded with magnificent Torrey pines. A great place for parents and kids and dogs.

And now there is a new site to visit in Crest Canyon. The fire-scarred twin Torreys that remind us of Mother Nature’s recent fiery visit.

Gordon Clanton teaches Sociology at San Diego State University. He welcomes comments at