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Looking Back to 1936: Freak storm starts five rural fires 

Looking Back Paso Robles

This look back at Paso Robles history comes from local newspapers in the Paso Robles Area Historical Society collection. News for this column is selected with the assistance of the society’s Vice President Nancy Tweedie and Research Director Jan Cannon.

Excerpts from Thursday, June 25, 1936 Paso Robles Advertiser:

Quick response to calls keeps losses at a minimum

Five rural fires, all directly traceable to the freak electric storm, were reported in this district Tuesday, according to Ramon Barba, fire warden in charge of the State Forestry Department truck stationed in Paso Robles.

Quick response to the calls, and the assistance of a number of volunteer workers kept the losses to a minimum, Barba declared. The first report was received about 10 a.m. Tuesday, from the Camatti Canyon, near Highland, where lightening had struck in a grain filed. The resulting blaze was confined to an area of about six acres.

While enroute to fight this fire, a truck from Santa Margarita stopped on the way to extinguish a second blaze caused by lightening, and in the meantime, a small grass fire broke out in Atascadero following the crash of a thunderbolt.

About 1:30 p.m., Barba said, the electric storm caused another blaze near Atascadero, and later in the afternoon equipment was called for duty at a similar fire near Shandon.

Looking Back Paso Robles history

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House burns at Atascadero

In addition to the lightning fires, Atascadero also was hit with community fires.

The Hicks home, occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Frances Wadleigh was gutted by a blaze which swept through the interior of the building while the Wadleighs and their son, Graydon, were attending the theatre.

Ernest Porter, returning home about 11 o’clock Monday evening, first saw the blaze. He ran to the home of Mr. M.A. Travis and she called the fire department. The fire had raged unchecked, however, and the firemen were able only to save the outside walls and roof.

Clothing and furniture were destroyed. Insurance partly covered the loss, it was said. The Wadleighs were housed overnight by Mr. and Mrs. S.D. Crisswell.

Up to the present time this season, there have been comparatively few rural fires throughout northern San Luis Obispo county, and none of these have been allowed to reach major proportions.

Commenting upon the reason for this, Barba declared that both state and county equipment was better able to cope with the fire hazard in the district.

There is more equipment available this year, he declared, and the crews have reached each fire without loss of time. The lookouts stationed throughout the area have been particularly efficient in reporting fires, and volunteer workers have been especially helpful.

“I would like, however, to caution smokers about tossing burning matches, cigarette, or pipe ashes from moving cars. The careless smoker is responsible for a great many fires, and he is a constant menace to the safety of our community,” Barba declared.

Read previous Looking Back articles

Thank you to sponsors of Looking Back

Paso Robles Pioneer Museum – Come take a real look back into local Paso Robles history. Open Thursday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 2010 Riverside Ave., Paso Robles, CA 93446, (805) 239-4556.

Estrella Warbird Museum is an aviation museum dedicated to the restoration and preservation of military aircraft, vehicles, and memorabilia. Woodland Auto Display is also open. Hours: Thursday through Sunday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. 4251 Dry Creek Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446,, (805) 227-0440.

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.