Crews working to remove fire risks throughout Cambria forest

Posted at 6:18 PM, Aug 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-29 21:18:15-04

Efforts are underway to get rid of the fire risks within the native Monterey pine forest in Cambria.

Along Cambria Pines Road, dozens of massive piles of brush line the streets.

Crews have been clearing invasive and dead brush throughout the forest and bunching it into these piles.

It’s a welcomed sight for a community that’s been tested with fire one too many times.

Aaron Linn, owner of Linn’s Restaurant located on Main Street, vividly remembers a day back in July of 2017 when a brush fire came dangerously close to his business.

"I came running up here and the fire was coming through the brush at me with the prevailing wind always coming from our coast here, it was blowing the fire right at me and consequently at Linn’s and our business which is just behind the trees," Linn explained. 

The flames came within 100 yards of his business but thankfully, no structures burned in that fire.

This summer, CAL FIRE and other agencies, including the SLO County Fire Safe Council, have been working together to prevent another fire in the seaside town.

"These piles that were just made a few days ago are primarily French broom, which is a really serious invasive shrub in Cambria, so this area was pretty much invaded," said Alan Peters, CAL FIRE SLO Unit Forester.

The piles also include dead material that’s been removed, all of which is highly flammable.

It’s a dangerous mixture, especially with homes sprinkled throughout the landscape.

"People in the neighborhood have been worried and talking about the French broom and the dead trees and things for years and worried about fire danger, especially after seeing what happened in Santa Rosa and some other communities," said Barbara Buchanan of Cambria.

But after seeing the work on their street, neighbor Suraya Smith said, "We think it’s a huge asset, especially with all the fires happening."

Peters says they’re trying to retain all the healthy coast live oak and Monterey pines that they can.

"We do a lot of tree pruning like this, a perfectly healthy young pine tree, we’ve just removed some of the lower limbs to eliminate that ladder fuel," Peters explained.

This particular phase of the multi-year project spans about a mile and a half of road.

It’s not only to prevent disaster but to improve forest health for decades to come.

Crews will be working for just two more days on Friday and Saturday.

About 250 brush piles are set to be burned after the first rain in the fall, which is the only effective way to get rid of French broom.

The ongoing project in Cambria is paid for by a $1.8 million CAL FIRE grant to improve forest health and reduce fire danger in the Monterey pine forest of Cambria, which spans about 3,000 acres in total.

CAL FIRE adds that it started treating the forest in 2011. About 45 acres were treated on Bridge Street.

Efforts will continue for the next three to four years.

"I would estimate that we have about 250 brush piles of this size and this pile of brush probably weighs a couple hundred pounds so it’s several hundred tons of material," Peters concluded.