Santa Margarita area scorched by Hill Fire has history of epic blazes

Residents who live in the area east of Santa Margarita have seen this before: Fast-moving flames, hundreds of firefighters and their homes in jeopardy.

The Hill Fire that burned more than 1,600 acres of land Monday and Tuesday is the latest blaze to disrupt that portion of San Luis Obispo County.

Here’s a look at some of the area’s notable wildfires over the few decades:

▪  Las Pilitas Fire, June 1985: One of the largest fires to burn in the area consumed 75,000 acres of brush, destroyed 10 homes, cost $6.3 million and jumped fire lines twice. It ignited in temperatures over 100 degrees when a hot piece of carbon from a car exhaust pipe sparked dry grass along Las Pilitas Road.

▪  Highway 58 Fire, August 1996: At its peak, more than 2,000 firefighters from as far away as Missouri battled the massive summertime blaze. After a week, the fire that was started by a spark from an old pickup truck had scorched more than 106,000 acres. Despite it size and area, which included land within the Machesna Mountain Wilderness Area, the fire destroyed or damaged only nine homes, three mobile homes, three vehicles and 15 sheds or barns. The cost to fight the fire was estimated at $6.5 million.

▪  Pozo Fire, August 2010: The Pozo Fire burned more than 1,200 acres east of Santa Margarita and spread into the Los Padres National Forest.

▪  Calf Fire, July 2012: More than 900 firefighters battled a fast-moving blaze, which burned 640 acres of grass, old-growth brush and oak woodlands in the Park Hill area. That fire was caused by a landowner clearing star thistle, an invasive weed, with a mower during a dry season.

▪  Park Hill Fire, June 2015: More than 600 firefighters from around the state battled the 1,800-acre blaze, which destroyed two homes near Park Hill and Las Pilitas roads. It took five days for the blaze to be fully contained and cost $3.5 million. Like both the Las Pilitas and Highway 58 fires, it was sparked by car exhaust.

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