Directors of the Cambria Community Services District board voted unanimously Thursday to declare that the town is indeed in an extreme fire-risk emergency, as a recent grand jury report had recommended.
The risk stems from drought, bugs, illness and other challenges threatening the town’s Monterey pines and other trees. The rare 3,400-acre stand of native pines is one of three on the U.S. mainland and one of five worldwide. Some scientists estimate that as much as 40 percent of the stand is dying or dead, with up to 90 percent mortality in some areas.
Cambria services district board members debated for about 15 minutes over the fire-risk resolution’s wording, knowing their action wouldn’t have any legal teeth. Technically, only cities and counties can proclaim a local emergency, according to district counsel, staff and Ron Alsop, the county’s emergency services manager.
Board members approved the resolution anyway, saying it would put them on record about the crisis situation and could pressure county supervisors to pass a declaration that would have some clout.
But in a phone interview Thursday evening, Supervisor Bruce Gibson said he and his staff already are on it, having passed a drought-emergency declaration March 10.
“That includes the fire threat” in Cambria, he said.
Gibson said he has been talking to county officials to “mobilize county resources to help reduce the hazard in the short term,” ramping up further since the county grand jury’s report, “In a State of Emergency — Assessing Fire Risk in Cambria,” was released March 16, and the county’s Fire Safe Council met in Cambria to discuss the crisis two days later.
He said the county Planning Department is working to streamline “permit and replanting requirements for tree removal. We don’t want our permitting or regulations to get in the way of getting the job done.”
A subcommittee of the county’s Drought Task Force is being established to address the Cambria fire-forest hazards, Gibson continued, and the Office of Emergency Services is ready to be “the conduit for getting grant funding to start reducing the hazard” and to “respond ASAP in the horrible situation that there is a fire.”
He said Public Works will assess in more detail and remove any hazardous trees in county rights of way, and also make sure county roads are in good condition, so roadway problems wouldn’t make any evacuations more difficult.