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Park Hill Fire, Day 3: Cause of fire has been determined, official says

Robyn Babcock gets a hug from her daughter, Sierra, on Monday, June 22, 2015, as the pair sifted through the remains of Robyn's home, which was burned to the ground in the Park Hill Fire.
Robyn Babcock gets a hug from her daughter, Sierra, on Monday, June 22, 2015, as the pair sifted through the remains of Robyn's home, which was burned to the ground in the Park Hill Fire. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The cause of the Park Hill Fire has been determined to be a piece of hot carbon from an unknown vehicle’s exhaust pipe that ignited dry grass.

Cal Fire crews conducted a damage assessment Monday, and determined that the fire destroyed two houses, four mobile homes, two recreational vehicles that were used as primary residences, 10 outbuildings and seven vehicles — including a boat and trailer — according to Cal Fire Chief Rob Lewin.

The latest cost estimate of the blaze is $2.7 million. The fire has burned along both sides of Park Hill and Las Pilitas roads.

Cal Fire officials said 642 firefighters and 45 engines from all over the state responded to the fire.

The fire started Saturday afternoon along Las Pilitas Road. Fire crews will spend the next few days mopping up the fire, which has burned 1,800 acres east of Santa Margarita.

As of Monday evening, Cal Fire officials said the fire was 80 percent contained and its spread had been stopped. Firefighters are dealing with steep terrain and hot temperatures as they work to put the fire completely out.

“A lot of fatigue is beginning to set in,” Cal Fire Capt. Felix Camacho said. “Some of the firefighters have been on the line for several days.”

Three people have been injured in the blaze. Two firefighters suffered knee and foot injuries, and a woman approached firefighters and asked for a bandage to put on a cut on her finger, said Es Berliner, Cal Fire spokeswoman.

An evacuation order on 72 residences has been lifted. But residents must remain vigilant and be prepared to evacuate again if the situation changes.

Because of drought conditions affecting water sources, only reliable pre-identified water sources were used by firefighting equipment. Firefighters last year surveyed all the potential water sources in San Luis Obispo County and mapped them, and they are trying to avoid stressed systems, Lewin said.

Firefighters were instructed, unless there is an immediate need, not to use water from the town of Santa Margarita. Most water has come from a private landowner on O’Donovan Road, Atascadero Mutual Water Co. and from Santa Margarita Lake, where helicopters have been dipping.

Firefighters said that as the county suffers through its fourth year of extreme drought, the availability of firefighting water could become an issue.

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