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Autumn winds could have made Cambria fire much worse

Scenes from the Bridge Fire in Cambria’s East Village

Fire crews were battling a wildfire in Cambria's East Village on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. A helicopter was getting water from the ocean to help battle the blaze.
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Fire crews were battling a wildfire in Cambria's East Village on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. A helicopter was getting water from the ocean to help battle the blaze.

A fire that forced evacuations in Cambria’s East Village on Tuesday had been extinguished by Wednesday afternoon, officials said, leaving firefighters — and Cambria residents — to breathe a sigh of relief that the blaze didn’t start later in the season.

Autumn winds are more likely to blow in the opposite direction, which could have directed the fire southwest toward businesses and residences on Main Street.

“We are very lucky that the wind was pushing the fire away from the commercial and residential areas, except for Wall Street and Bridge Street,” Cambria Fire Chief William Hollingsworth said. “The threat later in the year would have been to the commercial and residential portion of town” along Main Street.

A number of businesses, including the Redwood Center and The Cambrian’s offices, lie just across the street from where the fire ignited in a stand of eucalyptus and pine.

Even though the fire had been extinguished, two crews, a pair of engines and a water tender were still working Wednesday on the site of the blaze that reached nearly 4 acres, drawing a swift response from Cambria Fire, Cal Fire and the Sheriff’s Office, the previous day.

Firefighters wanted to be sure the blaze is fully extinguished, having dealt with a lightning-caused fire nearby last year that wouldn’t go away.

That fire, near Coast Union High School, sprang to life in a delayed reaction after a lightning storm almost exactly a year ago. More than a week after it was extinguished, it flared again, thanks to smoldering wood high in a tree.

fire drop
A helicopter did 11 fire drops from a 500-gallon bucket during the fire, Cambria Fire Chief William Hollingsworth said. Stephen H. Provost sprovost@thetribunenews.com

Hollingsworth said mop-up crews were saturating the area of Tuesday’s fire, “down to the mineral soil … so we don’t have a rekindle. We’re doing everything we can to avoid that.”

At its height, the fire attracted 94 personnel, Hollingsworth said, along with a dozen engines, a water tender, four fixed-wing aircraft, a bulldozer and a helicopter that made 11 drops from a 500-gallon bucket.

Evacuees were allowed to return home shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday, but a section of Main Street west of Burton Drive remained closed into Tuesday evening. It was open again Wednesday.

We are very lucky that the wind was pushing the fire away from the commercial and residential areas, except for Wall Street and Bridge Street.

William Hollingsworth, Cambria Fire Chief

Still, there were reminders of the previous day’s firefight. Around midday, a man who declined to be identified on Wall Street, closest to the eastern edge of the fire, was washing his car to remove red fire retardant. Other cars parked in the area bore the same red dots, as did the sidewalk and some of the trees.

Hollingsworth said the area that ignited had “a radical accumulation of downed tree and duff material — it’s an area that hasn’t really been touched for defensible space.”

Hollingsworth said the cause is under investigation.

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