Two local wildfires and multiple fires throughout the state have left firefighting resources in San Luis Obispo County thinly stretched.
Cal Fire has mobilized 240 National Guard soldiers to mop up the flames. Mobilizing the National Guard soldiers frees firefighters up to work as hand crews, directly attacking the fire, Cal Fire Fire Chief Rob Lewin said.
“It is only the middle of August and our crews are working an endless amount of time,” he said. “We are doing everything we can. We have cancelled all vacations, and some firefighters have been on fires 21 days straight.”
Lewin referred to the hand crews as the infantry of the fire service.
“All of the hand crews from all of the agencies are at a premium right now,” he said. “If we had a third fire, I am not sure we would have enough resources to get the fire out quickly.”
Fire engines and bulldozers are also in short supply. Cal Fire has enlisted the help of municipal fire engines and has hired the services of a privately owned bulldozer to help build fire lines.
Water to fight the Cuesta Fire is coming from San Luis Obispo, Atascadero and a state water treatment plant near the top of the Cuesta Grade. “Water is always an issue,” Lewin said. “We are using our water carefully.”
Four years of drought have greatly increased the fire danger in San Luis Obispo County. The dry conditions have resulted in widespread tree and brush mortality. Through June, Cal Fire responded to 85 wildfires that burned 1,841 acres.
The Cuesta Fire is the second fire of the summer to be caused by a vehicle. In June, a spark from a car’s exhaust system sparked a 1,800-acre blaze east of Santa Margarita.
The Cuesta Fire and two other blazes — the Grade Fire in Santa Barbara County and the Cholame Fire off of Highway 41 — were sparked on uphill grades indicating that the fires could have been started by sparks from a faulty exhaust system, Lewin said.
“People need to make sure that their vehicles are properly maintained and that they are not running rough and backfiring,” he said. “If you are towing anything, you need to make sure nothing is hanging down that could cause a spark.”
The cause of the Cuesta Fire is still under investigation and authorities do not know who caused it.
Anyone who negligently causes a wildfire can be fined and charged for the cost of fighting the fire, Lewin said. The cost of the Cuesta Fire is currently estimated at $1 million.
Fire authorities say motorists should take these steps to prevent their vehicle from starting a wildfire:
- When towing, make sure that chains are not dragging on the ground.