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Update: Cuesta Fire 90-percent contained, smoke continues to rise 

Update Aug. 28, 7:58 a.m.:

The Cuesta Fire near Santa Margarita is 90-percent contained at 2,446 acres. Smoke can still be rising from the forest as fire crews remain at the scene to address smoldering trees and mop-up operations. Cal Fire expects 100-percent containment by tonight.

“We had multiple 911 calls yesterday about smoke along the Cuesta grade,” said Bennet Milloy, a Cal Fire public information officer. “Smoke may be present over the fire area for several days from smoldering fire-weakened trees that are falling well within the control lines but do not pose a threat to the local communities. Fire crews continue to remain in place to ensure the control line are secure.

Firefighters continue to hold the fire within established containment lines. The arduous work of mopping up and extinguishing hot spots continue though out the fire area. Hot spots are being identified with inferred imaging and GPS mapping for crews to seek them out.

Significant resources, including over 400 personnel, continue to work in the southern area of the fire to seek out smoldering materials that could threaten the line. Working in the wilderness continues to be challenging for hand crews with the dense vegetation and distance into their work locations. Repairing the impacts of suppression continues throughout the fire perimeter. Some resources are being released to assist on other fires throughout the western states.

A Forest Closure Order continues for the Santa Lucia Wilderness Area in the Los Padres National Forest. Evacuation orders and road closures for Santa Margarita and the Miller Flat areas have all been lifted.

Update Aug. 26, 7 a.m.:

After a week and a half of intense work, firefighters have the Cuesta Fire 90-percent contained. The size of the blaze has been re-classified at 2446 acres. There are 1071 personnel working the fire including 44 fire engines, 37 hand crews, 12 water tenders, seven dozers and three helicopters.

Cal Fire reports that high pressure continues to remain over the fire area. Higher temperatures and shifting winds still pose a threat for increased fire activity within the wilderness. Fire crews remain engaged in suppressing hot spots and completing control lines. Suppression repair will continue throughout the fire area.

A Forest Closure Order is still in effect for the Santa Lucia Wilderness Area in the Los Padres National Forest.

A crew of firefighters working the Cuesta Fire on Saturday. Photo by US Forest Service.

A crew of firefighters working the Cuesta Fire on Saturday. Photo by US Forest Service.

Update Aug. 24, 7 a.m.:

– The vegetation fire that started a week ago is now 80-percent contained at 3,500 acres, Cal Fire reports. It is burning in the wilderness south of the community of Santa Margarita.

Firefighters are gaining the upper hand on the Cuesta Fire, but are concerned about rising temperatures. Forecasts call for afternoon temperatures in the high 90s this week.

There are currently 1,547 personnel fighting the Cuesta Fire. Two structures are considered threatened and one has been destroyed. One person has been injured.

Firefighters continue to be challenged by the dense vegetation and steep terrain within the south east portion of the fire, according to a Cal Fire report. Crews are working to complete containment and reinforce lines while mopping up and patrolling the perimeter of the fire. A high pressure system will be building over the fire area bringing higher temperatures and lower relative humidity which presents additional challenges for holding containment lines. Overnight fire behavior has consisted of minimal creeping with smoldering.

The number three lane of Northbound Highway 101 will remain closed to provide safety and access for fire crews and equipment working in this area.

Agencies cooperating with Cal Fire in fighting the blaze include the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff, San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services, California Highway Patrol, CAL OES, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Bureau of Land Management, California Conservation Corps, and the American Red Cross.

thank you fire fighters

Residents placed thank you posters near a fire-fighting command center outside of Santa Margarita. Photo by Dick Mason.

Cuesta Fire forces closure of Santa Lucia wilderness

Update Aug. 21, 8:55 a.m.: 

– A Forest Closure Order was issued for the Santa Lucia Wilderness Area in the Los Padres National Forest as a result of the Cuesta Fire. The order will remain in effect through Oct. 1, 2015, to provide for public safety due to ongoing fire suppression operations, limited road access, and to ensure that no one is injured within the fire perimeter.

The closure order prohibits public entry into all areas of the Santa Lucia Wilderness, including the Upper Lopez, Hi Mountain, and Sulphur Pot campgrounds, and the Little Falls, Big Falls, Rinconada, Trout Creek, and Upper Lopez trails. This area also includes Hi Mountain Lookout as well as the Garcia Ridge OHV trail.

A violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine or up to $5,000 for an individual, and up to $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for up to six months or both.

The road and trail closure order and map of the closure area are attached, and can also be found on the Los Padres National Forest website at http://fs.usda.gov/lpnf. Forest visitors are encouraged to contact the Santa Lucia Ranger District at (805) 925-9538 for more detailed information about this area and for the latest conditions.

Firefighters making progress on Cuesta Fire

The Cuesta Fire that began on Sunday evening has grown to 3500 acres but is 35-percent contained as of Friday morning at 7 a.m. There are now 1,607 personnel fighting the blaze.

The last couple days the weather has assisted firefighters with their efforts allowing crews to make progress on the fireline. The nightly marine layer has increased relative humidity and fuel moisture recovery.

The southern area of the fire, outside of Santa Margarita, is burning in steep terrain with heavy, drought-stressed fuels. This area of the fire will continue to challenge firefighters. Crews are working to establish containment and contingency line around the fire, taking advantage of favorable weather conditions.

The number three lane of Northbound Highway 101 will remain closed in order to provide safety and access for fire crews and equipment working in this area.

Cal Fire said that the weather in the last couple of days has assisted in the efforts of the firefighters, with nightly marine layers raising the humidity and aiding in moisture recovery.

The slow lane of the northbound Highway 101 on the grade will remain closed to provide access for firefighters. Evacuations were lifted earlier.

Cal Fire engines on the scene of the Cuesta Fire. Photo by Trisha Butcher.

Cal Fire engines on the scene of the Cuesta Fire. Photo by Trisha Butcher.

Cuesta Fire expected to spread in Santa Lucia wilderness

Update Aug. 19, 4:45 a.m.:

– Fire crews continue to fight a large fire burning south of the community of Santa Margarita. Over the last 24 hours the fire has grown to 2,500 acres and is 15-percent contained. The fire is expected to continue its spread southeast in the Santa Lucia wilderness, Cal Fire reports. About 1000 personnel are assigned to fight the fire.

Six helicopters are helping fight the Cuesta Fire. Photo by Trisha Butcher.

Six helicopters are helping fight the Cuesta Fire. Photo by Trisha Butcher.

The fire is burning in heavy, drought-stressed fuels, in an area that has not burned in approximately 30 years, Cal Fire reports. Steep terrain, hot weather and moderate winds, combined with the extreme drought conditions, will continue to present the possibility for spot fires in the area of Santa Margarita.

Due to active fire behavior Tuesday afternoon, an evacuation order remains in effect for Santa Margarita, south of the railroad tracks, and the Miller Flat area.

An evacuation center has been established at the Santa Rosa Academy in Atascadero. The address is 8655 Santa Rosa Road, Atascadero CA 93422

Road Closures

• East Cuesta Road from US Highway 101,
• West Cuesta Road from US Highway 101
• Slow lane of US Highway 101
• TV Tower Road

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Fire evacuees find shelter in Atascadero

 

Cuesta Fire

Cuesta Fire crews at a briefing Tuesday morning getting assignments.

Evacuations ordered as Cuesta Fire spreads

Fire spreads to 2000 acres, threatens 339 structures

Update Aug. 18, 7:40 a.m.:

Firefighters continue to battle the Cuesta Fire as it spreads. Cal Fire reports the fire has grown to 2,000 acres and is 10-percent contained. Early this morning crews met for a morning briefing to give assignments to 1000 personnel working on the fire. Santa Margarita was successfully protected over night when fire crews held a “firing and holding operation” a 1/4-mile south of the town. There are currently 339 structures threatened, Cal Fire reports.

Monday at approximately 1:00 pm the fire jumped the eastern containment lines a half mile ahead of the main body of the fire. The fire now burns in the direction of Santa Margarita and the Mills Flats area. Evacuation orders for the community of Santa Margarita south of the railroad tracks has been given. The fire remains in Unified Command with Cal Fire and United States Forest Service. Additional Hand Crews, Engines, and aircraft have been ordered and are now arriving on scene.

Cal Fire reports 73 fire engines, 20 crews, four helicopters, nine dozers and four water tenders on the scene.

The Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) is now over the fire assisting with construction of retardant lines and is capable of delivering 20,000 gallons of retardant. Structure defense group has been established in the just south of Santa Margarita and are working with bulldozers to build control lines on the fires perimeter.

Road Closures

East Cuesta Road from US Highway 101, West Cuesta Road from US Highway 101, slow lane of US Highway 101, TV Tower Road.

Red Cross sets up evacuation center

The American Red Cross of the Pacific Coast is establishing a shelter for residents affected by the Cuesta Fire, located at the Santa Rosa Academic Academy, 8655 Santa Rosa Road, 93422. The Red Cross is on hand to provide relief and comfort to evacuees, including shelter, meals, hygiene kits, and more.

“We’re working closely with our government partners to determine how the Red Cross can best support these families facing evacuations,” said Jessica Piffero, Regional Director of Communications, “We’ll be here as long as there is a need.”

The Red Cross is also coordinating with the County Department of Animal Services to assist with pet evacuations.

The best way to help Red Cross relief efforts is through a financial donation. Visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS to contribute to your local Red Cross Disaster Relief.

Update Aug. 17, 4:27 p.m.:

A fire over the Cuesta Grade near Highway 101 has spread to over 300 acres and is only 5-percent contained. At about 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, Cal Fire ordered the evacuation of all Santa Margarita area residents south of the railroad tracks. Details on an evacuation center are expected to follow shortly.

Fire on grade

The fire on the Cuesta Grade as of 6:30 a.m. Monday morning. Photo by Skye Ravy.

Update Aug. 17, 10:15 a.m.:

Fire on Cuesta Grade burns 125 acres, only 10-percent contained

A vehicle is thought to have ignited the fire, as well as two more fires in the county yesterday

– A fire that has burned over 100 acres on the Cuesta Grade is still only 10-percent contained as of this morning, according to Cal Fire. The fire is located east of Highway 101 on the Cuesta Grade eight miles north of the city limits of San Luis Obispo. The fire started on Sunday at 6:18 p.m. One structure is threatened, and there are a total of 250 personnel assigned to the fire. The cause of the fire has been identified as a vehicle.

Cal Fire reports that fire crews made good progress through the night on line construction on the north eastern edge of the fire. The fire remained active over the night with down canyon winds and isolated torching. Today crews will continue construction of control lines working in very rugged and steep terrain with drought stricken vegetation.

Today’s priorities will be keeping the fire out of the Santa Lucia Wilderness, protecting the power lines and communication towers threatened by the fire, Cal Fire says. In areas where containment lines are established crews will continue with mop-up operations and extinguishing hot spots. Air resources will support ground crews as soon as visibility allows for safe aerial operations.

The communities surrounding the Cuesta Fire can expect to see smoke throughout the day and into the evening. Outdoor activities should be planned for times when smoke levels are low. Upslope winds occur during the day, which will often take smoke into higher elevations. In the evening these winds change direction and bring smoke back downslope and in to the valley.

Ninety percent of all fires in California are caused by people. Three fires were sparked yesterday on US Highway 101 and Highway 41 (Grade, Cuesta, and Cholame) by a single vehicle, Cal Fire reports. There has been no evacuations ordered. Road closures: East Cuesta Road from US Highway 101, West Cuesta Road from US Highway 101, slow lane of US Highway 101, TV Tower Road.

Original story posted Aug. 17, 8 a.m.

– A fire on Cuesta Grade has burned almost 125 acres as of 8 a.m. Monday morning, according to Cal Fire. The fire broke out Sunday evening at approximately 6:15 p.m., and the cause of the fire is still under investigation. As of 8 a.m., the fire was only 10-percent contained.

No further information is available at this time. Updates will be posted.  Fire on grade 2

Cuesta grade fire. Photo courtesy of Dick Mason.

Cuesta grade fire. Photo courtesy of Dick Mason.

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The news staff of the Paso Robles Daily News wrote or edited this story from local contributors and press releases. The news staff can be reached at info@pasoroblesdailynews.com.