A fast response and multiple air drops of retardant and water prevented what could have been a disaster Friday in Cambria when a smoldering tree fire, apparently started by lighting during Sunday night’s intense storm, flared into a full-fledged wildfire near Scott Rock.
Firefighters responded to a smoke-check call at 12:39 p.m., according to Michelle Aguilar, Cal Fire communications operator.
In short order, air-attack units were dropping retardant on the blaze as ground-crew firefighters calculated how best to access the remote area, eventually getting there through the Taylor Ranch.
People reportedly were evacuated from Coast Union High School, across Santa Rosa Creek Road from the access point to the fire. Crews staged in the high school parking lot.
Three air tankers, two helicopters, four Cal Fire engines, one Cambria Fire Department engine, the Cambria Fire 2,000-gallon water tender, a private bulldozer hired by Cal Fire and a host of sheriff’s officials responded. The Coast Unified School District’s water tanker also was at the staging area.
Firefighters declared the blaze contained at a half-acre at 3:31 p.m. Crews were expected to remain on scene until late into Friday night or early Saturday.
During the height of the blaze, which spread smoke that could be seen and smelled from numerous points along the North Coast, neighbors and other residents said they were terrified. Cambria has been declared to be in a critical state of fire emergency, due to the drought and a 3,000-acre native stand of trees, many of which are drying, dead or dying.
Joyce Williams, whose Main Street home could have been literally in the line of fire, said the episode was “unbelievably scary.” She was having lunch downtown with a friend, when “we kept hearing all those planes … we went outside and looked toward the Old Santa Rosa Chapel and saw the billowing smoke.”
She had high praise for firefighting crews. “Gosh, did they get in there quickly! We got a lot of protection, right away. Planes. Lots of fire vehicles. They did a fantastic job.”
Fighting the blaze so close to the edge of developed Cambria could serve as a trial run for emergency crews that have been gearing up for months to battle any blaze in the drought-stricken coastal town.
Sheriff’s deputies spread out to notify people in areas that could literally have been in the line of fire if winds shifted.
Evacuation plans were ready to be implemented, but that proved to be unnecessary. No structures were deemed to be threatened by the fire.