Cambrian: Slice of Life

Close call sends new signal about dangers of fire

Two people watch smoke rise from just off Main Street in Cambria during a fire that burned nearly 4 acres in the East Village and forced evacuations on Wall Street and Bridge Street.
Two people watch smoke rise from just off Main Street in Cambria during a fire that burned nearly 4 acres in the East Village and forced evacuations on Wall Street and Bridge Street.

A little fear can be a good thing, as long as it’s mixed with some common sense.

Cambrians have had their recent dose of fear, thank you. Many are still are struggling to regain their shattered senses of security after the Bridge Fire started July 18, right above East Village. As smoke billowed way too close behind the businesses, homes and historic buildings, the blaze could have become the disaster that so many of us have dreaded for decades.

Cal Fire, Cambria Fire Department and other agencies hit the wildfire fast and hard with everything they had. Fortunately, within about three hours, they were able to contain the blaze to within about four acres.

Afterward, relief and euphoria swept through the town, but it left many of us with a lingering sense of uneasiness. After all, there have been so many other fires raging around us in the state and West.

With good reason, we fret about what the traditional fire season of August, September and October will bring.

Hopefully, we’re also staying alert, watching for smoke where there shouldn’t be any, reporting to 911 anything that worries us, preparing and protecting the land we all love. And, of course, we must keep our “go bags,” load lists and family emergency plans at the ready … just in case.

Because a little fear can indeed be helpful if it means being prepared.


Meanwhile, as we shake ourselves back into our more normal reality, the first of two somber anniversaries has come and gone.

As my friend Kate Novoa (better known as BigSurKate, posted July 22, that date hit many Big Sur residents hard. “Some will cry, some will silently remember, whether they want to or not. None of us will forget where we were and what we were doing” when an illegal campfire in Garrapata State Park lit the Soberanes Fire.

As The Sacramento Bee wrote in a recent editorial about fire preparedness (reprinted in The Tribune), “the Soberanes Fire raged across Big Sur. All told, it burned for 82 days and cost $236 million to put out.” At that point, the Soberanes was “the most expensive wildfire in U.S. history.”

Eventually, the conflagration blazed through 132,127 acres, 57 homes and 11 outbuildings. One dozer operator was killed. According to The Bee, the “conflagration helped turn 2016 into the worst year on record for forest fires. As weather patterns shift because of climate change, the problem likely will get worse.”

For months, the massive blaze consumed the attention, lives and properties of our Big Sur neighbors. The rest of us worried about them, tried to help them however we could, and dreaded the day that such a fire might hit closer to our own home turf on the North Coast of San Luis Obispo County.

Then it did.

The Chimney Fire began Aug. 13, 2016, although it wouldn’t be in our neck of the woods until about a week later, because the blaze first flared up northwest of Paso Robles and south of Nacimiento Lake.

By road, that’s a world away. But as the crow flies and a fire spreads, it’s just a hop and skip over several ridges of Santa Lucia hills.

Hop and skip the fire did. The fierce blaze chewed up drought-parched grasses, brush and trees on its relentless march toward the North Coast and Hearst Castle. It came so close, the Castle was closed to the public for a week as a safety precaution.

Officials declared the Chimney Fire fully contained Sept. 6, after the wildfire had terrified many North Coast residents and consumed 49 residences, 21 other structures and vegetation on 46,344 acres.

So, most of us were lucky then and again July 18, 2017, and blessed to have inspired, dedicated firefighters who knew how to do their jobs and then did them. To say we’re all grateful is a huge understatement.

What’s around the corner?

No, we can never be totally ready for natural or manmade disasters. But not doing whatever we can to prepare ourselves ahead of time, just in case, is irresponsible, risky, ignoring-the-obvious foolishness.

As the old saw goes, it’s much better to be a live chicken than a dead duck … or scorched ostrich with your lifeless head stuck in the sand.

Editor’s note: Learn more about how to be prepared in case wildfire threatens, go to and

Kathe Tanner: 805-927-4140