Smoke over Avila Beach on Friday had some people worried.
“The poor sailboats are getting inundated with the smoke,” said visitor Liza Hunter. “I really hope it’s controlled.”
Firefighters with CAL FIRE SLO were cautiously burning through 240 acres of land on San Luis Hill.
“The fuel that is here is coastal sage scrub,” explained Dennis O’Neil, Fuels Battalion Chief with CAL FIRE SLO. “There's no recorded fire history, so there’s a huge amount of dead material in it.”
Friday's prescribed burn was part of a land management project on the Diablo Canyon property owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).
“Roughly about 12,000 acres of pristine property. It's about 165 Disneylands,” said John Lindsey, a representative for PG&E.
The burn required months of planning. According to the Diablo Canyon Fire Department, in February 2020, there was a similar prescribed burn that helped maintain part of the property.
“With climate change, temperatures are increasing, fuel levels […] the moisture levels in vegetation is decreasing and that increases the threat of wildfire,” added Lindsey. “We're taking a holistic approach to reduce that hazard and one way to do so is with these managed burns, these controlled burns.”
About 80 CAL FIRE SLO personnel were on scene.
“We used mastication, heavy equipment to masticate the brush, and also mow the grass. We also used hand crews to remove the brush and cut some control lines,” said O’Neil.
Firefighters engaged in a mosaic pattern that burns dead plants but still leaves patches of green areas to make sure fires are prevented and still habitable for wildlife.
One of the main priorities was to keep the Point San Luis Lighthouse safe.
“[It] is a Central Coast treasure, not only the lighthouse but the trail that leads to it,” said Lindsey. “The lighthouse was built in 1890.”
Even with temperatures in the mid-80s, fire crews said it went as planned.
“The conditions we were looking for was an offshore wind north to northeast wind which would push the smoke out to the sea, and that’s what we generally have today,” added O’Neil.
Large clouds of smoke could be seen along the coast stretching from Avila Beach to Oceano.
“Some circular motion of the smoke when it hits something that’s tall, so in the case of today it was the ridge in the Port San Luis area. So it hit that, started to swirl and went down to those communities,” said Meghan Field, the public information officer for SLO County Air Pollution Control District.
“By now, it has started to dissipate, so the impact was pretty short-lived,” she added.
With a warm weekend ahead, CAL FIRE SLO recommends residents be prepared.
“We’re still in fire season. People should make sure they have proper defensible space,” said O’Neil.
Children, elders and those prone to respiratory issues should always keep an eye out for smoky conditions.
“If people are really smelling smoke or are getting those irritated eyes, coughing, we suggest they head indoors during the prescribed burn,” said Field.
CAL FIRE SLO wrapped up this burn by 6 p.m., but there will still be some crews on-site overnight to make sure there are no hot spots left.
CAL FIRE SLO is planning to have more prescribed burns in the near future as part of a plan to prevent wildfires. They will be announcing those locations on social media ahead of time.