The Cambrian

It would take 3 hours to evacuate Cambria in wildfire — under ideal conditions, study says

SLO County is bracing for wildfire — and workers are clearing an evacuation path

Workers remove vegetation along the side of Cambria Pines Road in Cambria as part of a Cal Fire's wildfire management program. The program in SLO County is paid for through funds from PG&E
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Workers remove vegetation along the side of Cambria Pines Road in Cambria as part of a Cal Fire's wildfire management program. The program in SLO County is paid for through funds from PG&E

It would take about three hours for everyone from Cambria’s Lodge Hill neighborhoods west of Highway 1 to evacuate — under ideal conditions.

That was the message in Saturday’s wildfire preparedness forum in Cambria, according to a study the council commissioned from Cornelius Nuworsoo, Cal Poly transportation professor/engineer and his students.

“It’s like everybody trying to get out of the ballgame at the end,” Dan Turner, business manager of the county Fire Safe Council, told the about 225 people at the forum.

And the three-hour time frame is only for residents to reach Highway 1; it would take another hour or so for people to get to Highway 46 to carry them east toward Paso Robles.

Ideal conditions means drivers exhibiting plenty of patience, no accidents or stalled vehicles on the primary routes of Ardath Drive, Burton Drive or the highway and no blockages as emergency vehicles try to get into the area that everybody else is trying to get out of, Turner said.

Details of the study

The completed Lodge Hill study is built around statistics, projections based on previous experience, expected human behavior and the ultimate carrying capacity of a two-lane road that’s often filled with visitors heading to or from Hearst Castle, the elephant-seal rookery, Big Sur and beyond.

Turner said the study assumes full occupancy of the area, that the raging wildfire is approaching from the northeastern part of town with no advance notice and “everybody’s leaving at the same time by car.”

Burton and Ardath are the only main roads out of the area, Turner said, and both of them funnel into Highway 1, which is the only route out of town. The highway carries a peak load of 1,400 cars an hour, assuming 700 in each direction, according to research for the study, and maximum capacity is 1,700 vehicles moving in both directions.

The study estimates Cambria has an updated population of 5,934 people, 2,803 households and 1,543 of the people “unlikely to drive” due to age, infirmity or lack of a driver’s license. Of those, 607 are under the age of 18 and 936 are 75 or older.

Lodge Hill’s estimates include 2,017 residential structures, 23 other structures and 3,992 vehicles.

The study’s benefit is to help figure out what’s next, Turner said.

“How do we make this work better... move less cars so roads can handle the capacity better?... Maybe some people don’t leave, you go to a place of safety,” he said.

“A fire does the most damage in the first four to eight hours,” Turner continued. “By then, you can amass enough resources. ...“But we’re kind of at the end of the stream for resources.”

Residents have questions

Questions flew around the Veterans Memorial Building hall covering topics such as notifying guests in vacation rental homes and motels; carpooling; opening other roads with access to Highway 1; and what happens if a tree falls across Ardath or Burton.

How to make the area more survivable in general was also discusses The goal is a firebreak around the entire northeastern boundary of the town, Turner said, because that’s the area with the most severe fire potential.

“Give firefighters a place to hold the fire,” he said.

And, most importantly, ways to assure neighbors are helping neighbors who need it was also discussed.

Additional studies are in the works for Happy Hill, Leimert, Pine Knolls and the school campus areas, and another study is expected to be authorized soon for Park Hill, Turner said. The meeting was cosponsored by the Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group and the Fire Safe Council.

A new resource

Cambrians have a new way to find information they need to be ready for and informed about wildfires or other emergencies, according to Fire Chief William Hollingsworth.

The site is www.247ncep.com, a North Coast Emergency Preparedness website compiled by the Cambria Fire Department and Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group, among others. The site puts information at your fingertips (and mouse click), helpful facts, news and data about a variety of topics.

For instance, under the “Alerts Now” tab, web surfers can find clickable, live links to information about fires, weather, storms, quakes, tsunami, floods, health, active-shooter events, roads and traffic and how to be notified. Other tabs include “Get Ready,” “Learn More,” “How to Help” and “Contact.”

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