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Day 11: Chimney Fire burns more homes, grows to 38,956 acres

Nate Broden, left, Mallory Doiel-Glisson, and Dawn Leigh Doiel hang up a sign thanking firefighters at the intersection of Interlake and Bee Rock roads. They are opting to stay at their home despite a mandatory evacuation order.
Nate Broden, left, Mallory Doiel-Glisson, and Dawn Leigh Doiel hang up a sign thanking firefighters at the intersection of Interlake and Bee Rock roads. They are opting to stay at their home despite a mandatory evacuation order. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The erratic, wind-whipped Chimney Fire grew to 38,956 acres as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, continuing a relentless push to the north and east around Lake Nacimiento and destroying nine more homes and four outbuildings in its path.

Chimney Fire stats: 7 p.m. Tuesday 38,956 acres, 35 percent contained 3,983 firefighting personnel 65 structures destroyed; 7 damaged 1,898 structures threatened Evacuations ordered: Christmas Cove, Oak Shores, South Shore Village, Cal Shasta, Ranchos del Lago, Bee Rock, Lake San Antonio and Bryson Hesperia areas Waterway closure: Las Tablas arm of Lake Nacimiento closed to all boats 326 fire engines 107 fire crews 7 air tankers 17 helicopters 46 dozers 62 water tenders

Several lakefront communities remained threatened Tuesday night, but Cal Fire officials said they were more confident that the historic Hearst Castle will survive, after fire crews set backfires during the afternoon to keep the flames at bay about 2 miles from the hilltop mansion that overlooks the Pacific. The Castle, a State Parks landmark, remains closed all week.

A total of 45 homes and 20 outbuildings are now destroyed and seven buildings damaged from the fire that ignited Aug. 13 south of Lake Nacimiento in the northern reaches of San Luis Obispo County. Cal Fire officials were unable to say exactly where the buildings were located that burned on Tuesday, but said 1,898 structures remained threatened.

Evacuation centers Flamson Middle School, 2405 Spring St., Paso Robles. Small animals: Call for information on area boarding facilities, 805-423-4934. Large animals: Horse Emergency Evacuation Team, 805-466-7457.Important phone numbers American Red Cross: 805-550-0213. Chimney Fire public information hotline: 805-543-2444. For help with food, shelter, transportation, health services, utilities, dial: 2-1-1. To replace EBT cards, call SLO County Social Services (Paso Robles office): 805-237-3110. To replace vital records, call SLO County Clerk-Recorder (Atascadero office): 805-461-6044. For insurance help, call the state Dept. of Insurance Consumer Hotline: 800-927-4357.Other information Visit www.slocounty.ca.gov/emergencies/Chimney_Fire_Resources

Evacuations remain in place for communities on both the south and north sides of the lake.

Because of the erratic nature of some of the blazes surrounding the lake, officials shut down any boating activity west of Las Tablas Creek — a waterway in the middle of the lake’s southern shore — and continued to urge residents to evacuate if they were in the path of the fire.

Higher humidity and lower temperatures throughout the day helped efforts in the western area of the fire, but low humidity and high temperatures in the north and east made conditions more challenging. Winds from the southwest of about 10 miles per hour, with gusts of up to 20 miles per hour also contributed to the extreme fire behavior.

An inversion layer trapping smoke and reducing visibility peaked at about 2 p.m., similar to previous days. The smoky conditions and tough-to-access terrain raised concerns about firefighters’ safety on Tuesday, Cal Fire spokeswoman Diley Greiser said.

“Our major concern is we don’t want firefighters to be trapped behind the line,” she said.

Into Tuesday night, Cal Fire said it expected favorable weather conditions would allow firefighters to set more backfires to reinforce containment lines.

Smoke-filled communities

The fire continued to threaten Oak Shores, Christmas Cove, South Shore Village, Rancho Del Lago, Cal Shasta, Bryson Hesperia and Lake San Antonio in the northeastern area and Hearst Castle to the west.

On Lynch Canyon Road north of Lake Nacimiento, crews used hoes and other hand tools to dig up crackling patches of ground and tear into burning stumps. Some firefighters sprayed the area with hoses attached to fire trucks parked along the road.

The fire had burned only intermittently through the dry fields and wooded areas, leaving yellow patches of grass amidst blackened, ashy sections.

Firefighters called this a “dirty burn,” in contrast to a fire that completely scorches an area clean. If the flames don’t claim all the flammable material in an area, there’s a better chance the fire will spark again, fueled by what it didn’t previously devour.

Down the road, Christmas Cove looked like a ghost town on Tuesday. Responders had gone through the community and taped yellow signs on homes indicating whether anyone remained, how much defensible space was available and what kind of water resources were present. Deer roamed through empty yards.

Nearby Oak Shores, where most residents obeyed orders to evacuate, looked similarly abandoned. Fire trucks and firefighters seemed to be the community’s only inhabitants.

Johnnie Smith and his friend, Jim Lauderdale, were among the few who chose to remain and ride out the fire.

Smith, a general contractor, and Lauderdale, a collision repairman in Paso Robles, said they live in Oak Shores full-time, although they estimated about 75 percent of houses in the community are used as vacation homes.

Smoke hung heavy in the yellow air as Smith grilled steaks on his porch and Lauderdale relaxed nearby. His two Labrador retrievers, one yellow, one black, played in the yard while his generator whirred in the background.

“That’s the worst of it,” Lauderdale said. “Just the smoke.”

Smith said his wife was staying in Atascadero to work. He’d taken his grandmother, 99-year-old Faye Middleton, the oldest Oak Shores resident, to Ventura for safety.

Smith and Lauderdale said they felt safe living so close to Lake Nacimiento, which they said would be their escape route if the flames got too close.

“Just don’t get in the way,” Smith said. “And just help.”

A couple of miles to the east at Bee Rock and Interlake roads, the air was just as hazy with smoke.

Dawn Doiel, her daughter, Mallory Doiel-Glisson, and nephew, Nate Broden, used zip ties to hang a ‘Thank you firefighters’ banner between a Dead End sign and a tree near Bee Rock Store.

Doiel said her family is “in it for the long haul” and not planning to obey orders to evacuate.

“It’s our property,” said Doiel, who has lived just off Lake Nacimiento for more than 20 years.

The family has a lot of “defensible space” and a boat that allows them to travel to nearby Heritage Ranch, where friends help them stock up on supplies. “We’re just prepared,” Doiel said.

Firefighters continue their fight against the growing Chimney Fire in the Lynch Canyon and in the Bee Rock areas north of Lake Nacimiento.

Most people in the nearby North Shore community have evacuated, Doiel said. Even though she and her family are committed to staying, Doiel said riding out the fire isn’t easy.

“It’s been scary,” she said.

The family — and anyone who ignores evacuation orders — is risking injury or death, Cal Fire officials say.

“We are begging people to get out,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Greiser said early Tuesday. “It’s their right to stay but they are risking their lives and our firefighting operations.”

Greiser said residents underestimate how quickly they can be overcome by flames and smoke. They also don’t realize that by staying, they may jeopardize the battle to save as many homes as possible if firefighters have to rescue them or if engines have to dodge vehicles driven by late evacuees.

“It’s our job to fight the fire,” Greiser said. “Let us do that.”

The George H. Flamson Middle School gym, where the Red Cross is operating an emergency shelter for Chimney Fire evacuees, was home to 21 people on Tuesday, said Jessica Piffero, regional director of communications.

Most of the evacuees are from Oak Shores on the north side of the lake, she said.

Those staying at the shelter have access to cots, food and showers and can keep their pets in provided cages in a separate room. The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District has given the Red Cross the use of the gym and locker rooms, although fall classes started on campus Monday.

Piffero said the Red Cross is primarily helping residents affected by wildfires in California and floods in Louisiana. Providing a financial donation is the best way to help evacuees, Piffero said.

“The needs of every family are unique,” she said.

A local emergency

While the fire blazed more than 33 miles away, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors ratified a local emergency declared Friday by County Emergency Services Director and CAO Dan Buckshi.

The supervisors directed county staff to waive fees for rebuilding as a result of the Chimney Fire. More than 2,400 people are affected by the evacuation orders issued for the fire, according to county officials.

Gov. Jerry Brown had previously declared a state of emergency for San Luis Obispo County on Aug. 15.

Ron Alsop, county emergency services director, said the proclamation will allow officials to respond more quickly by streamlining the approval process.

“As the Chimney Fire spreads at an accelerated pace, there are extremely perilous safety conditions for people and property in the county and it’s become harder to mitigate the fire despite firefighters’ best efforts,” Alsop said. “We have to be able to respond and change course quickly. This proclamation allows us to do that.”

Community support

Elsewhere throughout the county, numerous volunteer and support groups came together to provide services for those impacted by the Chimney Fire.

Some, like Chimney Fire Animal Relief, are looking for more volunteers to help the animals displaced by the fire.

Group founder Brenna Jones said on Tuesday that she was inspired to start the relief group because of her love of animals.

“I can only imagine how stressful it is to evacuate your home,” she said. “I saw a need and wanted to fill it. There are lots of pet friendly hotels in the area but not everyone can afford a hotel every night.”

Jones said the group has been working closely with Cal Fire to help evacuate some animals that had to be left behind, and has been working to find boarding or transportation for others. She said so far they have helped to find boarding for two horses, two cats, and one dog displaced by the fire, but are actively taking more calls for other animals.

Jones suggested several ways to help:

▪  To request boarding or animal supplies, fill out a Boarding Request Form on the group’s Facebook page. To sign up to board or transport displaced animals, fill out the Provide Shelter or Transportation forms, also on the Facebook page.

▪  The group has a Go Fund Me account to help raise money to buy supplies, vaccines, boarding and/or veterinary care for any displaced animals. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the group had raised, $835 of its $1,000 goal.

▪  Drop off donated pet supplies at Lemos Feed and Pet Supply in Paso Robles, Atascadero or San Luis Obispo; or at The Pet Department in Paso Robles. Pet supplies should be new or in good/like new condition and food donations unopened. Any unused donations will be donated to victims of other California fires, Loaves and Fishes, and other nonprofit organizations.

Others, like Paso Robles resident Trisha Butcher have been on the lookout for ways to help show the community’s support for the thousands of firefighters battling the blazes.

Butcher is organizing a Firefighter Support Rally for Saturday in Paso Robles to show support for the firefighters before they go out to the Chimney Fire that morning.

The rally will be from 7 to 9 a.m. in front of Flamson Middle School. Bring signs and flags to show support for firefighters as they drive past after the morning Cal Fire briefing at the Paso Robles fairgrounds.

“I witnessed the devastation the day after it started and saw how incredibly skilled these pilots were and how many strike teams were running around and trucks everywhere, and it just made me want to stand on top of my boat and wave my flag proudly for all these people risking their lives to save ours,” she said Tuesday. “It’s kind of overwhelming. I want to say ‘Thank you’ but I just don’t feel that is adequate enough.”

As of Tuesday evening, the event’s Facebook page had 64 confirmed attendees, with another 189 people expressing an interest in the event.

“We are all part of this horrible tragedy right now and my wish is to get as many people as possible to rally behind everyone who is fighting it or being affected by it,” Butcher said. “That’s what communities are supposed to do, in my opinion.”

Hearst Castle

Cal Fire crews conducted a prescribed burn southeast of Hearst Castle on Tuesday afternoon to clear away brush, trees and other flammables that could provide fuel to the Chimney Fire if flames were to move westward, said Cal Fire spokesman Brian Steiger and State Parks district superintendent Dan Falat.

Falat and Cal Fire spokesman Rich Brocchini said Tuesday afternoon that the western edge of the fire appears to be in about the same spot it was yesterday — about 2 to 2.5 miles from the historic Castle built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst on a hilltop high above San Simeon and Highway 1.

By mid-afternoon, flames and another big plume of smoke could be seen near Pine Mountain from various vantage points in and north of Cambria.

Falat and Cal Fire officials said they believe the Castle is safe for now, but, as Falat added, “this fire is wily,” having shifted direction several times, pushed by wind and availability of dense tinder-dry vegetation ready to ignite after decades without fire and five years of drought.

Lindsey Holden, Janet Lavelle, Kaytlyn Leslie, David Sneed and Kathe Tanner contributed to this article.

Chimney Fire stats: 7 p.m. Tuesday

  • 38,956 acres, 35 percent contained
  • 3,983 firefighting personnel
  • 65 structures destroyed; 7 damaged
  • 1,898 structures threatened
  • Evacuations ordered: Christmas Cove, Oak Shores, South Shore Village, Cal Shasta, Ranchos del Lago, Bee Rock, Lake San Antonio and Bryson Hesperia areas
  • Waterway closure: Las Tablas arm of Lake Nacimiento closed to all boats
  • 326 fire engines
  • 107 fire crews
  • 7 air tankers
  • 17 helicopters
  • 46 dozers
  • 62 water tenders

Evacuation centers

  • Flamson Middle School, 2405 Spring St., Paso Robles.
  • Small animals: Call for information on area boarding facilities, 805-423-4934.
  • Large animals: Horse Emergency Evacuation Team, 805-466-7457.
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