Neighbors step in to save animals, homes as Stone Fire burns near Santa Margarita

Update: 12:30 p.m.

Cal Fire has confirmed that of the seven structures that have been destroyed, one was a home, two were shops or barns, three were travel trailers and one was a pump house or outbuilding. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Additionally, Highway 58 is under a soft closure at Highway 229 and at O’Donovan Road, Cal Fire says, so anyone driving through that area should be extremely careful and drive slowly.

Original story:

The Stone Fire east of Santa Margarita has destroyed seven structures, one of which is a home, Cal Fire said Monday morning. The rest of the structures are all barn- and outbuilding-type structures.

The blaze has burned 340 acres and is 40 percent contained.

The fire started about 2 p.m. Sunday and quickly grew to about 200 acres within the first hour.

Highway 58 east of Santa Margarita was completely open as of about 10:10 a.m., according to Caltrans. All road closures are now soft closures, which means residents should use caution while driving in the area.

Rob Derrick, who lives off of Huer Huero Road, came out Monday morning to look at the “moonscape” left by the fire. His property was safe, but a stripe of fire retardant had painted the car and RV of his neighbor across the street.

Derrick has lived in the area since 1972, so he’s seen his fair share of wildfires. But he said he’d never seen two fires as close together as the Hill Fire and the Stone Fire.

On Sunday, Derrick walked outside after lunch and saw flames going up to his friend’s house. Derrick, who said he used to be a paid-call firefighter, said he jumped on his tractor and started cutting a trail through the brush and then evacuated his friend’s animals.

And once the firefighters got there, “we watched the guys do their jobs. We handed out water to them and a friend of mine took down cookies and snacks, just telling the guys thank you.”

Down the road from Derrick, Monte and Kathy Mills were getting ready to take their dog on a hike. They were at a movie in Atascadero when the fire started.

“She had turned her phone off during the movie and when we got out, it lit up like a Christmas tree,” Monte said. The couple was immediately concerned for Kathy’s dog, who was in a kennel on their property.

“All I got was that the fire was right across the street,” Kathy recalled. But once they were able to get home and see where the fire was, they had peace of mind.

Kathy said their neighbors had horse trailers ready to go in case they needed to evacuate the Mills’ horses, and one friend had taken the dog to her home.

And “Cal Fire and all the resource management has been unbelievable, just incredible,” Kathy said. “They just jumped on it and did not hesitate.”

In Creston on Sunday, Don Dowling was greeted at his home after a trip to Morro Bay by flashing lights and billowing smoke.

He pulled into the driveway of the home that he and his wife Lora had lived in for the past 36 years and looked in disbelief as flames from the Stone Fire burned dangerously close to his home. Luckily, fire crews also arrived just as Dowling did.

“They saved the place,” Dowling said of the firefighter’s efforts. “They saved the shed that’s in the back, they saved the house. They saved the barn, too. It was all burning.”

The fire seared the dry grass in the hills around the home and a few leaves off a tree 10 yards away from the home. Fire crews tried to stop the fire before it reached Dowling’s home, but it jumped across Highway 58 and burned nearby hills.

It seemed like deja vu for the Dowlings, whose property narrowly escaped damage when the Hill Fire burned 1,600 acres just south of their home. The only lost property Sunday was a horse that escaped.

The Dowling’s next-door neighbor wasn’t so lucky.

“They lost a mobile home and a barn,” Dowling said.

“If it hadn’t been for the fire company we wouldn’t have a house today,” Dowling said. “They did a fine job.”

Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF