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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 10:17 pm | Fair 51º


Fire Reported 50% Contained Near Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County

Park Hill Fire has charred some 1,800 acres since it broke out Saturday; 2 homes, several outbuildings reported burned

A brick foundation is all that remains of an outbuilding that was destroyed by a wildfire that has charred some 1,800 acres east of Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County.
A brick foundation is all that remains of an outbuilding that was destroyed by a wildfire that has charred some 1,800 acres east of Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County. (David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

Firefighters from throughout California battled the Park Hill Fire for a second day Sunday, gaining substantial ground in containing the largest wildfire to blacken San Luis Obispo County in nearly two decades.

By Sunday evening, the fire east of Santa Margarita had burned 1,800 acres and was 50 percent contained.

CalFire’s preliminary estimate was that two homes and several outbuildings burned, although investigators planned to continue assessing the damage Monday.

On Sunday, CalFire officials estimated the total cost of the fire at about $1.7 million. One civilian was injured although no details were available Sunday.

About 700 firefighters, from as far away as Los Angeles County and Northern California, helped fight the blaze, which was first reported at about 2:20 p.m. Saturday near Park Hill and Las Pilitas roads, about 10 miles east of Santa Margarita.

CalFire crews and local fire departments initially jumped on the fire, which quickly grew as it devoured the bone-dry brush that blankets the county in this fourth year of drought.

[Click here to read more from the San Luis Obispo Tribune.]

Some local CalFire crews had been sent to fight wildfires in Santa Barbara and Mariposa counties, but were called back to the Park Hill fire, CalFire Division Chief Steve Reeder said.

At a briefing Sunday for newly arrived firefighters, CalFire Division Chief John Richardson said the 700 firefighters were all the resources the Park Hill fire would probably get.

“We were told last night that no more help is coming in because of fires around the state,” he said Sunday.

Four planes and six helicopters also were deployed, Reeder said.

Limited water supply from the drought also presented a challenge, with Reeder warning the new arrivals, “Santa Margarita is bone dry. We have wells going dry there every day.”

Helicopters were taking water from Santa Margarita Lake, ranch ponds and sewage treatment plants, if available. Reeder said using seawater was an option but was corrosive to the aircraft.

On Saturday, San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s deputies went to 72 homes to evacuate residents, although some refused to leave.

The evacuation order was lifted at 5 p.m. Sunday, and the American Red Cross of Central California closed an emergency shelter it had opened at Santa Margarita Elementary School.

A steady flow of 10 to 15 people at any given time were at the shelter while it was open Saturday and Sunday, with nine people spending the night, Red Cross spokeswoman Kristin Inman said.

Six large animals and many smaller ones were evacuated during the fire by the Horse Emergency Evacuation Team (HEET), according to CalFire.

By Sunday evening, all but three PG&E customers had their power restored after utility crews worked behind firefighters to replace burned power poles and repair lines.

CalFire Chief Robert Lewin said the Park Hill fire was the largest in San Luis Obispo County since the massive 1997 Logan Fire that burned about 50,000 acres east of Huasna.

— Janet Lavelle is assistant city editor for the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Contact her at [email protected].

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