The Chimney Fire that began Aug. 13 finally seemed to reach a turning point Thursday as evacuation orders for some Lake Nacimiento communities were lifted — allowing residents back to homes struck down in the fire’s early path of destruction — and containment increased to 41 percent.
Chimney Fire stats: 7 p.m. Thursday 43,933 acres, 41 percent contained 3,972 firefighting personnel; 1 injury 70 structures destroyed (49 homes, 21 outbuildings); 8 damaged 1,898 structures threatened Evacuations ordered: Christmas Cove, Oak Shores, North Shore Boat and Ski, Laguna Vista, Sapaqua Valley, Bee Rock, Lake San Antonio and Bryson Hesperia areas Road closures: G14 Interlake Road from Lake Nacimiento Dam to Bryson Hesperia Road. Waterway closure: Las Tablas arm of Lake Nacimiento 327 fire engines 105 hand crews 7 air tankers 16 helicopters 46 dozers 60 water tenders
As of 7 p.m. Thursday, the Chimney Fire had burned 43,933 acres, growing by a scant 300 acres throughout the day.
An evacuation warning remained in place for residents north of San Simeon Creek Road, according to Cal Fire spokesman Aladdin Morgan. After successful back-burning operations, the fire continued to stay about 2 miles away from the historic Hearst Castle and its priceless collection of artwork.
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The fire was most active along its ruggedly isolated northwestern edge, near the boundary between San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties, Cal Fire spokesman John Buchanan said.
“Everything else has been looking really, really, really good,” he said. “Hopefully the night brings the same positive results as the day did.”
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
To date, 49 homes and 21 outbuildings have been destroyed, and another eight structures have been damaged.
By evening, 3,972 fire personnel were still assigned to battle the Chimney Fire, the second-largest wildfire burning in California.
Rick Morehouse eyed the ruins of Cal Shasta homes Thursday afternoon after a Chimney Fire evacuation order for several communities south of Lake Nacimiento was lifted at noon.
The scene was bleak.
The Chimney Fire had stripped the hilly terrain around him, leaving it black and ashy. The remaining trees resembled ashen stick figures.
Houses that once had stunning views of Lake Nacimiento had crumbled before the flames. Cars were hollowed out and golf carts melted.
“This used to be a beautiful place,” Morehouse said, looking down a hill at the charred remnants of a neighbor’s home.
Morehouse, who sported a powder-blue Cal Shasta T-shirt and a gray ponytail covered by a baseball cap, is president of the private club of about 100 houses. The fire destroyed 27 of those homes, he said.
Although Morehouse’s home is still standing, his eyes grew misty talking about his community.
“These are good people,” he said. “They band together.”
As the Chimney Fire inched northward Thursday and fire crews gained ground along its edges, Cal Fire lifted the evacuation order for private communities along the lake’s southern shore — Tri-Counties, Cal Shasta, Ranchos del Lago and South Shore Village. The order remained in effect for communities on the north side of the lake.
Morehouse and his wife live in Orange County but spend about 90 days per year at their Cal Shasta home.
His in-laws, who introduced them to the community, built a house there during the 1970s. Morehouse pointed out some rubble on the hill above — all that remained of the house his in-laws had sold before the fire.
It’s a sight his wife hasn’t yet been able to face.
“You thought you knew the area,” Morehouse said. “You don't know anything until it gets all burned.”
Morehouse and his wife built their home in the 1980s. Their three sons grew up coming to the community, spending time at the lake and with neighbors.
The fire has been a strain for Morehouse, who calls his home near the lake “the one constant” in his life.
Several times, neighbors called to say his house had been destroyed, only for him to hear later that the home had made it through. Earlier in the fire, the community was ordered to evacuate then allowed to come back, only to be evacuated again a few hours later.
At one point, Morehouse said he came back to defend his house against the flames, which he said came within 30 feet of his garage.
Morehouse said it puzzles him which structures the fire chose to devour and which ones to spare. Looking at a hill across the lake, one burned home stood next to another that was untouched.
“How was one house picked and not the other?” he asked.
In spite of the destruction around him, Morehouse was confident Cal Shasta would bounce back. He said he expects residents to start coming back to the community during the next few days.
When that happens, he’s ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work.
“I need to give back what they gave me,” Morehouse said.
Through much of the fire fight, Hearst Castle has remained a priority.
State Parks district superintendent Dan Falat said Thursday that infrared maps, mild weather and firefighting efforts left him “cautiously optimistic” that the Castle is safe from encroachment by the flames. Water-dropping helicopters began flying as soon as the marine layer lifted Thursday, and the rim of the fire seemed to stay about the same 2 miles from the Castle that it had been for several days.
Falat said he was also monitoring San Simeon State Park and campground, south of the Castle on Highway 1, in the area of San Simeon Creek Road, where residents were warned of possible evacuations Wednesday because of backfiring operations in the area.
Staff writers Kaytlyn Leslie, Lindsey Holden, Kathe Tanner and Janet Lavelle contributed to this story.
Chimney Fire stats: 7 p.m. Thursday
- 43,933 acres, 41 percent contained
- 3,972 firefighting personnel; 1 injury
- 70 structures destroyed (49 homes, 21 outbuildings); 8 damaged
- 1,898 structures threatened
- Evacuations ordered: Christmas Cove, Oak Shores, North Shore Boat and Ski, Laguna Vista, Sapaqua Valley, Bee Rock, Lake San Antonio and Bryson Hesperia areas
- Road closures: G14 Interlake Road from Lake Nacimiento Dam to Bryson Hesperia Road.
- Waterway closure: Las Tablas arm of Lake Nacimiento
- 327 fire engines
- 105 hand crews
- 7 air tankers
- 16 helicopters
- 46 dozers
- 60 water tenders