Officials say an abandoned campfire was the likely cause of a slow-moving, one-acre blaze Sunday, Oct. 25, that blackened grassland and the edge of the Monterey pine forest adjacent to Santa Lucia Middle School and the Self-Help housing complex on Schoolhouse Lane.
At one point, the fire burned to within about 25 feet of the school’s chain-link fence.
The fire had just begun to burn into a steep, wooded area laced with standing dead trees when firefighters got a line around it and declared it contained about 4 p.m. A top-level Cal Fire tree faller was called in to drop a tall, dead-tree snag that kept smoldering and burning.
Numerous fires have started in that area in recent decades, according to Dexter Upton, volunteer firefighter and an active member of the Cambria Fire crew for more than 40 years.
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Investigators stopped short of declaring whether the abandoned campfire was started by the homeless or youngsters.
Eric Shalhoob, Cal Fire’s interim manager of the Cambria Fire Department, said Monday the factors that helped keep the fire small were the low height of the grass, moderate temperatures and breezes that were slight, rather than roaring.
The call came in at 2:42 p.m., he said, and Cal Fire crews arrived at 2:48 p.m., followed immediately by Cambria Fire’s engine and water-tender truck crews. The full response eventually included three engines, the water tender, a chief officer, an investigator, the tree faller and an air-attack plane that was called off before dropping retardant.
Cal Fire Capt. Steve Martin said at the scene Sunday afternoon that his crews would check the area periodically to make sure there were no flare-ups, as had been the case in Cambria and Santa Margarita fires recently.
In fact, the smoldering snag flared up the next morning, but when alert citizens noticed and called it in, fire crews were already on their way to check the area, Shalhoob said.