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Fire chiefs hold Cuesta Fire community meeting in Santa Margarita 

By Teresa Turner

Fire meeting
– A community meeting for the Santa Margarita area Cuesta Fire was held at Santa Margarita Elementary School Wednesday at 7 p.m. to go over the latest status of the fire that started Sunday afternoon.

The fire has expanded to 3,500 acres is now 20-percent contained. According to a county fire chief and a forest supervisor, the evacuation order for Santa Margarita was lifted because the fire was staying in the containment lines. By 5 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, the 500 residents of Santa Margarita that were evacuated were allowed back to their homes. Three firefighters have been injured in firefighting efforts.

As of Thursday morning an estimated 900 personnel are fighting the fire with 95 engines, 10 dozers, six water tenders, seven helicopters and two air tankers.

Although the fire still burns and it could take weeks to extinguish, the conditions for Santa Margarita are better based on the weather and firefighting efforts. The closure of Santa Margarita School has been lifted, and classes will start Thursday.

On Monday, as the fire was getting close to Santa Margarita, Cal Fire ordered mandatory evacuations south of the railroad tracks. Some people stayed while others took some of their belongings and stayed with family, friends or took advantage of the Red Cross shelters.

Tim Schamp, an evacuee, secured his house, watered down the area, packed up and left. Schamp said that he had time to gather his important documents, his dog, and a guitar that his father had given him. He said he was fortunate enough to come back a few times and check out his property. When the winds were shifting, Schamp said he was very concerned that he might lose his home but was thankful that he has homeowner insurance just in case. He said he was grateful and felt fortunate for the resources that were there to save the town.Fire meeting santa marg

The fire on the Cuesta Grade has been linked to two other fires in the region, and all three were believed to be started by the same vehicle. There was a time-line that started mid-Sunday at the Nojoqui Falls exit in Santa Barbara County. That evening, a small brush fire had started at a pull off on northbound 101 freeway and was extinguished; the assumption was that it could have started by a vehicle that either had a hot catalytic converter or a chain that could have been dragging the ground. Two hours later – which is about the time it takes to drive from that spot to the Cuesta Grade, the same event happened again. Forty-five minutes later it happened again at the Hwy 41 and 46 intersection.

With a combination of wind and humidity, plus that parts of the grade have not burned in 30 years, the Cuesta Fire developed into three small fires. Other county agencies have joined in and contributed in attempting to stop the blaze.



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