The Cambrian

SLO County officials seek state funding to clear tree die-off areas

A Memorial Day forest walk on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve shows dead and diseased trees marked for removal.
A Memorial Day forest walk on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve shows dead and diseased trees marked for removal. Special to The Cambrian

Worried about the potential for a wildfire in Cambria and other vulnerable areas of San Luis Obispo County, especially where forests and wildlands border and interlace neighborhoods, fire officials and volunteers met on Aug. 4 to discuss ways to reduce fire hazards, dispose of downed wood and brush, create and refresh fuel breaks, and obtain grants to remove dead and downed trees and other fire fuels.

As the county Fire Safe Council met in San Simeon, a massive wildfire to the north continued to blaze through thousands of acres of steep, forested turf north of Big Sur, among the most scenic areas of the United States.

Soberanes Fire

According to Cal Fire updates, as of 7 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, the Soberanes Fire was 50 percent contained. The agency expects full containment by the end of August.

As of Aug. 10, the Monterey County blaze sparked by an illegal campfire on July 22 had consumed about 68,700 acres (more than 100 square miles), destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings and was threatening 410 others. About 4,855 personnel were fighting the fire in dangerous terrain and conditions, using 271 fire engines, 56 dozers, 54 water tenders and a fleet of air-support tankers and helicopters. A bulldozer operator died while helping to fight the fire.

Higher winds and the fire’s progress prompted Cal Fire to close part of Highway 1 overnight Monday into Tuesday morning, Aug. 8 and 9, and again Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, Aug. 9 and 10. Other temporary closures could follow as officials re-evaluate the situation.

At times, parts of Highway 1 have been clogged with traffic from fire-related equipment and looky-loos taking pictures.

People have been told to evacuate, or prepare to leave, various Monterey County areas, including parts of Big Sur and the Ventana area, reportedly sending swarms of displaced visitors southward to Hearst Castle, Cambria and beyond. Several State Parks and U.S. Forest Service areas are closed.

Smoke from the fire tainted San Luis Obispo County air with stinky, grayish-orange haze, turned the setting sun scarlet and aggravated allergies, asthma, drippy eyes and other medical conditions.

Fire Safe Council

According to Suzy McDonald, a representative from the Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group, the Aug. 4 Fire Safe Council meeting included several topics of interest for people and agencies on the North Coast.

Local projects discussed included a 22-acre demonstration project in the Monterey pine forest.

The council unanimously endorsed having county officials send a letter asking California legislators to include Cambria and possibly other threatened San Luis Obispo County areas on the state Tree Mortality Task Force and to be included in the task force’s top tier of tree die-off areas, which would have the edge in the competition for millions of dollars in funding.

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson is to meet with state representatives to push for Cambria’s inclusion, citing the dangers of 6,000 residents in the forested area (including many elderly people), winding and narrow roads, and limited ways out.

The Cambria focus group got high praise from the council’s business manager, Dan Turner.

“They are doing a lot of incredibly good work,” especially on community preparedness, he told the council.

Here's a unique view of the Cambria pine forest, narrated by Fire Chief Mark Miller and filmed in March 2015.