Santa Margarita residents band together as Hill Fire burns 1,600 acres, multiple structures

Hill Fire near Santa Margarita: Scenes from the evacuation zone

A look inside the evacuation zone on and near Huer Huero Road during the Hill Fire east of Santa Margarita on Tuesday, June 27, 2017. On Tuesday, firefighters appeared to have gotten the upper hand on the fire.
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A look inside the evacuation zone on and near Huer Huero Road during the Hill Fire east of Santa Margarita on Tuesday, June 27, 2017. On Tuesday, firefighters appeared to have gotten the upper hand on the fire.

Fire crews on Tuesday were able to wrestle control of the Hill Fire, a fast-moving 1,600-acre blaze that destroyed multiple structures as it swept through the Santa Margarita area — by the end of the day, 60 percent of the flames had been contained.

The hundreds of residents who were evacuated Monday night were allowed to return home at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. All roads were re-opened, although non-residents aren’t yet allowed back in the area, according to a San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office deputy on the scene.

The blaze ignited Monday evening about 3:30 p.m. near Parkhill Road and Rue de Leon. The fire burned across the dry brush quickly, claiming 1,200 acres by Tuesday morning. It destroyed multiple structures, including the home of “The Big Bang Theory” star Johnny Galecki, according to TMZ.

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Marie and Matthew Burd spent Monday night in their RV trailer in the parking lot of Santa Margarita Elementary School — which was designated as a Red Cross shelter — after evacuating their property on Horseshoe Canyon Road with their four dogs.

They were among 11 people who slept at school, according to Cindy Osgood, shelter manager.

Osgood said others came and went throughout the evening and Tuesday morning to get food and use the restrooms. She said cots, blankets and “comfort kits” that include toiletries were also made available, along with an on-site nurse, mental health professional and spiritual counselor.

“We’re receiving wonderful support from the school system,” said Osgood, who noted that people can make donations at RedCross.org.

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Cal Fire Capt. George Huang, based in Los Osos, takes in the scene of the Hill Fire near Huer Huero Road in Santa Margarita. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The Burds’ horses were also safely evacuated. Matthew Burd, a professor in the Cal Poly animal science department, was able to coordinate with Jaymie Noland, the head of the animal science department, to secure a trailer to evacuate their horses to the university by 6 p.m.

“I thought we were going to be OK, be able to eat (dinner) because I looked up on the ridge and thought we were going to be OK,” she said. “… And then I looked back up on the ridge and there was a hot spot that had flared up again.”

Monica Lund, who lives about two miles up Huer Huero Road, could relate.

On Tuesday afternoon, she was at the Huer Huero and Highway 58 closure trying to get back home. Lund and her two teenage daughters evacuated Monday night, but her husband stayed behind in their house.

Lund took her daughters, three horses, three dogs and two cats to her in-laws’ home in Creston, she said.

“It’s scary,” she said. “I think it may be the second time in 30 years that I took the animals out. I was very torn on keeping the horses there or not.”

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Richard Lang and his wife Judy Baker watch the road closure at Highway 58 and Huer Huero Road on Tuesday as firefighters gained groud on the Hill Fire in Santa Margarita. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Judy Baker and her husband, Richard Lang, were parked in a tan truck outside their property off Highway 58, watching the road closure just up ahead at Huer Huero Road. Their property was not part of the mandatory evacuations.

“It’s country living,” Baker said. “You gotta know how to live. You never know if you’re gonna have a busted pipe or a fire.”

Farther west, on Parkhill Road, Jenny Holmes lives just down the street from where the fire initially started.

“My neighbor called me yesterday, and she was really concerned,” Holmes said, adding that her neighbor told her to look outside.

“I just saw one single column, raising straight up,” she said.

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Flames from the Hill Fire burn along a ridge near Huer Huero Road. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

She said her neighbors have been keeping her abreast of the news, since she doesn’t have electricity.

“I just decided to hold out,” she said. Holmes has 20 goats and some chickens, as well as two dogs. “Thankfully, we didn’t have to go. It’s about staying focused on what needs to happen and being mindful of what’s going on.”

Erin Beyer, another Parkhill Road resident, passed out Popsicles as she waited for Parkhill Road to reopen on Tuesday evening.

“I was told the road won’t reopen till 7, and the Popsicles aren’t going to keep that long,” she said, laughing. Beyer said she stayed on Monday night and helped get her neighbor’s animals evacuated, because they weren’t home at the time.

She said she wasn’t scared during the fire.

“The firefighters know what they’re doing.”

Dan Itel contributed to this report.

A caravan of firetrucks filled up their tanks on Foothill Boulevard in San Luis Obispo on Tuesday, June 27, 2017, before going to fight the Hill Fire east of Santa Margarita.

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