This could be a tough time for fire-alert North Coast residents, with a heat wave, some winds, periodic burning by Cal Fire of downed trees and piles of cut brush (such as French broom) and the seasonal concern about the use of illegal fireworks.
Cooling waves of fog can reduce the temperature, especially along the coast, but the drifting mist also can temporarily raise concerns because it can look so much like smoke.
Mantra for the wise remains the same: “If you see something, say something.”
William Hollingsworth, chief of the Cambria Fire Department, said Tuesday, June 20, that “if you see or hear fireworks, or see what you think is smoke or a fire, just call 911.” That’s the quickest and best way to get word to firefighters about the concerns, he said.
More Cambria Fire, Cal Fire, State Parks, Sheriff’s Office and CHP crews are on duty during the holiday period and so-called “red flag” days of hot, dry weather. But firefighters are often out on patrol or inspections, which means they’re not available to answer their direct lines.
So, Hollingsworth said, it’s much better to call 911, where dispatchers are braced for extra calls at this time of year. “We’d all much rather get the call, do the theoretical smoke check and find out it’s nothing, rather than miss something that could be serious.”
Local enforcers “have a zero-tolerance policy for fireworks in Cambria,” he said. Even though consumers can buy them legally in Templeton and a few other areas, “you cannot use any fireworks here in Cambria. If fireworks are found in your possession, they could be confiscated and you could be cited, fined and/or worse.”
Cal Fire and its contractors recently pulled up and piled up thousands of invasive French broom and other weeds, especially in densely wooded areas surrounding Cambria’s northern and eastern boundaries.
When weather conditions allow, crews hired by the county’s Fire Safe Council are performing periodic controlled burns of piles of dead, dry French broom pulled earlier in the season in Cambria. Cal Fire officials say controlled burning of the piles removes fire fuel from the forest and helps reduce the spread of seeds from the rampant, fast-spreading weed.
Worried residents have fretted about those brush-and-wood piles, many of them 6 feet in diameter and 4 feet high, calling them fire hazards, especially during hot and dry weather.
Jim Neumann is coordinating the Cal Fire efforts paid for with federal and state grant funds, such as the State Responsibility Area fees that many Californians pay every year — this year, the fee is nearly $153 for every parcel with a habitable structure on it. But owners of habitable parcels in San Luis Obispo County pay an annual fee of $117, receiving a $35 discount because their areas are covered by local fire-protection jurisdictions.
“The fees we’re paying are coming back to our community,” Neumann said.
He told the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group June 14 that Cal Fire crews have begun burning the piles, especially in areas where chipping the brush wouldn’t be practical or possible, even if chipping crews were available, which they’re not.
The burning will only happen on days when the county deems it safe to do so, Neumann said, and not on hot, dry and/or windy days. Some burns were done in early June.
Among the areas involved are upper Bridge Street, along some forested portions of Sunbury Avenue and the northern side of Cambria Pines Road.
Other downed trees with trunks that are judged to be viable for lumbering will be salvaged.
Cal Fire unit forester Alan Peters told Focus Group participants that crews were almost finished with a 20-acre treatment area on the Hearst Ranch designed to “give us a better idea of what would happen” to downed trees on Bridge Street, for instance, if a mill tried to make lumber out of them.
Unfortunately, it seems that most of it wasn’t viable, and “will have to be chipped, which reduces the options for disposing of the downed wood,” he said.
“This is all about fire safety and a healthy forest,” Neumann concluded.