The Cambrian

Chimney, Soberanes fires force Hearst Castle to change tour routine

Hearst Castle has changed its tour schedule as smoke has been drifting in from two nearby wildfires.
Hearst Castle has changed its tour schedule as smoke has been drifting in from two nearby wildfires. File photo

Hearst Castle officials are taking special precautions to protect visitors from occasionally dense wildfire smoke and ash. Tour schedules, routes and routines are changing on a day-by-day basis.

The smoke — from the Chimney Fire at Lake Nacimiento (and to a lesser degree from the Soberanes Fire north of Big Sur) — can blanket the North Coast periodically, depending on wind direction and fog density.

Occasionally, the thick, pungent smoke is so thick “we can’t see the Castle hilltop from the visitor center,” Dan Falat, superintendent of the State Parks district that includes the Castle, said Monday.

We can’t see the Castle hilltop from the visitor center.

Dan Falat, superintendent of the State Parks district that includes Hearst Castle

He said that as long as the smoky conditions continue, tours will be conducted “old-school style,” which means they’ll be fully guided, rather than part guided and part free roaming on the Castle grounds.

Officials also rearranged schedules, consolidating tours where possible, tweaking start-and-end times and canceling some late-in-the-day tours that accommodate last-minute reservations. The temporary changes and precautions will be noted on the Castle’s Facebook page, website and other online sites.

So far, none of the air-quality alarms on the Castle’s hybrid fire-response system have gone off within the historic-house museum, according to Falat.

“We’re taking necessary precautions to protect the artifacts and the public,” he said, “including the kinds of things you’d do at your own home, such as keeping doors and windows closed.”

“We’re taking it day by day,” he said of conditions that can change rapidly many times during the same day. “And we’re making sure we’re prepared,” no matter what the weather, wind and the fire do.

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