Day 7: Chimney Fire jumps to 12,939 acres and 35 percent containment

Fire attack helicopters drop water on the southwestern front of the Chimney Fire on Thursday.
Fire attack helicopters drop water on the southwestern front of the Chimney Fire on Thursday. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Firefighters continued their assault on the Chimney Fire near Nacimiento Lake on Friday, with one firefighter airlifted off the fire lines and taken to the hospital. The fire grew another 1,000 acres since morning, with 12,939 acres burned by Friday evening.

Containment had also risen slightly, however, to 35 percent.

CHIMNEY FIRE STATS: 6 P.M. FRIDAY 12,939 acres, 35 percent contained 2,699 firefighting personnel 32 homes and 13 outbuildings destroyed; 7 more damaged Mandatory evacuations: Running Deer Ranch, Tri-County, Cal Shasta, Rancho del Lago, and South Shore Village 478 PG&E customers are without power; power lines in the fire area have been de-energized for firefighter safety 218 fire engines 71 fire crews 7 airtankers 14 helicopters 50 dozers 35 water tenders

While wind gusts grounded some retardant-carrying aircraft Thursday, planes and helicopters were able to continue flying Friday even in the face of another day of strong winds, Cal Fire spokesman Capt. Larry Kurtz said. Kurtz said he couldn’t release any information on the injured firefighter.

Cal Fire had gotten some reports that a hunting cabin may have burned, but that hadn’t been confirmed. Otherwise, property damage remained at 32 homes and 13 outbuildings destroyed and seven more damaged, mostly in the northeast area of the burn area, where neighborhoods cluster around the lake.

More firefighters were brought on Friday, with 2,699 working the fire. Another helicopter and 11 more dozers also were added.

The most active part of the fire continued to be in the rugged hills and canyons at the southwestern edge of the fire around Rocky Butte Truck Trail and Lime Mountain.

The winds actually provided some help to firefighters Friday, Kurtz said, because the westward-marching flames were slowed by wind gusts blowing in the opposite direction.

“That gave us a chance to move across the front of the fire and lay down some lines,” he said.

Mandatory evacuations remained in place for Running Deer Ranch, Tri-County, Cal Shasta, Ranchos del Lago and South Shore Village. Kurtz said Cal Fire hopes to start lifting evacuations in some neighborhoods near Nacimiento Lake, such as Cal Shasta and Tri-County, within the next 24 hours.

“We do realize how badly people want to get back in their homes, and we want to make that happen as soon as it’s safe for them,” he said.

Many PG&E customers in the area are without power.

PG&E has been working to restore power, but it’s been a changing situation all week, company spokesman Blair Jones said. Early in the week, 450 customers were without electricity, but that was reduced to about 50 customers Friday morning.

Some of the power loss is because of damaged power poles and lines, but some power loss comes as a result of Cal Fire asking PG&E to de-energize lines for firefighter safety.

That was the case Friday afternoon, when Cal Fire asked for more lines to be de-activated, leaving 478 customers again without electricity, Jones said.

“We’ve been out there for the last few days, and once Cal Fire says it’s safe, we go in and assess the damage and get to work,” Jones said. “So far we’ve found 12 to 15 power poles that were burned and needed to be replaced and the wires rehung.”

Meanwhile, as the battle to bring the Chimney Fire under control continues, some vineyard owners have expressed concern that smoke from the fire could damage this year’s crop. On Friday, the fire was 4 to 5 miles away from the Adelaida grape region west of Paso Robles.

Brenda Ouwerkerk, deputy county agricultural commissioner, said her office will probably do surveys of vineyards near the Chimney Fire to determine if they have sustained any damage from the fire. However, those surveys won’t be done until after the fire has been put out.

Smoke residue from wildfires can sometimes damage vineyards by giving the grapes an unpleasant smoke flavor, Ouwerkerk said. She does not think that ash falling on vineyards would cause serious damage to the vines.

Housing for firefighters

Cal Poly is housing about 200 firefighters daily from the Chimney Fire. The firefighters are being housed at Trinity Hall, one of the red brick dormitories on campus.

“They come in after their shifts,” said Denise Gibbons, Cal Poly’s director of housing administration. “They are given a bed, shower and dinner.”

“It has all gone really well, and we have been able to alleviate some of the pressure on area hotels,” Gibbons said.

Mike Yule, Cal Fire public information manager for the Chimney Fire, said Cal Poly is mostly housing mutual aid strike teams, which consist of 22 firefighters. Firefighters work shifts of 24 hours on and 24 hours off.

“When they are off the line, they will eat and grab a quick nap because they don’t sleep on the fire line, and they are pretty tired when they get off,” he said.

There are nearly 2,700 personnel on the fire, and most of them are staying at fire headquarters at the Paso Robles Event Center.

“We have pretty much taken over the whole place,” Yule said.

Other firefighters are being lodged at hotels in Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay.

Foundation help

The San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation has activated its disaster-support fund to help victims of the Chimney Fire near Nacimiento Lake.

“Donations to the fund will provide both immediate relief and support rebuilding and recovery efforts in the aftermath of the fire,” the foundation said in its announcement of the fund activation. “Grants from the fund will be distributed to nonprofit agencies and organizations directly assisting individuals to meet needs as they arise and to deploy resources where they are most needed.”

The foundation also announced it is waiving all administrative fees, so all donations will go into grant-making. Donations can be made by calling 805-543-2323.

Donations may also be mailed to the foundation at 550 Dana St., San Luis Obispo, or by visiting the foundation’s webpage at http://www.cfsloco.org.

Staff writer David Sneed contributed to this story.