Chimney Fire burns homes near Nacimiento Lake
Update 10:24 p.m.
Approximately 250 homes have been evacuated near Nacimiento Lake as the crews continue to battle the Chimney Fire, said Sgt. Jeff Nichols of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t know exactly how many people have been evacuated, he said.
“Some places are empty, some places had 10 people,” Nichols said.
Update 9:55 p.m.
The Chimney Fire near Nacimiento Lake has destroyed 20 structures, and 150 are still threatened, according to a Cal Fire news release. The vegetation fire is burning 4,300 acres southwest of Lake Nacimiento, and it was growing to the north, according to Cal Fire. As of 9 p.m., it was 10 percent contained.
Five hundred personnel are fighting the fire, including 80 engines, 11 helicopters, four air tanks, 18 hand crews and three dozers, according to the release.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The Chimney Fire near Nacimiento Lake more than doubled in size Sunday, growing to 4,000 acres, burning 12 homes and prompting the evacuations of hundreds of residences.
As temperatures reached 104 degrees Sunday, the fire took off to the south and east toward the lake, officials said. The extent of the damage and the location of the burned homes was not released Sunday night. The fire continued to threaten 250 structures, according to Bennet Milloy, the Chimney Fire public information officer for Cal Fire.
The entire Running Deer Ranch area was under evacuation orders Sunday, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office. Residents in smaller communities that were isolated by the fire were escorted out by sheriff’s deputies or evacuated to the water’s edge and taken across the water to Oak Shores by boat.
The priority for fire crews is protecting lives and property, specifically homes, Milloy said Sunday evening. He added that crews will continue to do that Monday, while likely focusing on perimeter control.
He anticipates challenges throughout the first part of the week to be similar to those that fire crews faced Sunday: hot weather, drought-stressed vegetation — which fuels the fire — and limited access to the area.
A control line has been difficult to establish because the fire is “spotting” ahead of itself, Milloy said, meaning embers are carried into a smoke column, fall out ahead of the original fire and start another blaze.
About 100 people are listed as working on the fire, but Milloy said that number is much larger as crew members skip check-in and go straight to work. Additional resources are expected Monday to reinforce the 20 engines, three water tenders, six helicopters, four air tankers, two hand crews and three dozers already fighting the fire. A base camp for firefighters has been set up at the Paso Robles Event Center.
The hot weather is expected to continue in the week ahead, according to PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey. Monday should bring only slightly cooler weather, with a high of about 97 degrees. The high on Tuesday and Wednesday is forecast to be 99 degrees.
Lower temperatures and calm to light winds overnight and in the early morning hours should provide some relief to crews, Lindsey said. Afternoon winds are expected to be gentle to moderate,
8 to 18 mph, Monday through Wednesday. If the fire is intense enough, it can generate its own winds, Lindsey said.
The southwest winds should blow smoke away from the coastal valleys and beaches of San Luis Obispo County, sending it toward the San Joaquin Valley, Lindsey said.
On Sunday evening, there was heavy smoke over Heritage Ranch, which is about 4 miles from the fire; however, the community is not threatened, according to a Cal Fire SLO tweet.
Members of the public seeking information on the fire should call 805-543-2444, which is operated by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services. Milloy asked that people not call 911 for Chimney Fire updates, as it clogs emergency lines. A Red Cross evacuation shelter was set up Saturday evening in Paso Robles at Flamson Middle School, 2405 Spring St.
One firefighter was injured Saturday, according to Assistant Chief Eric Cleveland, Cal Fire incident commander. Cleveland said the firefighter was airlifted to a hospital, where he was treated and released.
The fire started about 4 p.m. Saturday near Running Deer and Chimney Rock roads. The cause is under investigation.
Danielle Ames: 805-781-7902