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‘Extremely high fire risk’: Weed abatement concerns grow in Cambria following record wet year


By Delaney White

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    CAMBRIA (KSBY) — From the recent devastating scenes in Maui to terrifying memories of Paradise — wildfires are top of mind for many living in the western portion of the U.S.

“Cambria absolutely has an extremely high fire risk,” said Justin Vincent, Cambria Community Service District Fire Department fire chief.

Cambria is enveloped in natural beauty; surrounded by the ocean and forest. But the forest provides hazardous fuels.

“And the three things that will affect a fire [are] going to be the topography, the weather and the fuel,” Chief Vincent said. “And Cambria unfortunately has all three of those things.”

Vincent says if those factors come together at the same time with a wind-driven fire going through an area with thick vegetation it could be disastrous, and if a wind-driven fire were to start there would be no air support — limiting their ability to fight a wildfire on the north coast.

“We can absolutely have a Maui-type fire or a Paradise-type fire that could be extremely, extremely devastating,” said Chief Vincent.

Because it is an unincorporated township, not a city, Cambria is unique in that it falls in the state responsibility area for wildland and wildfire prevention.

“Cal Fire is responsible for defensible space when it comes to improved parcels and then we have the 1900+ vacant parcels,” said Chief Vincent.

That means properties with homes or structures on them fall under the jurisdiction of Cal Fire and those without structures are under CSD’s jurisdiction.

Every year Cambria CSD does a weed abatement program during which they assess which vacant parcels in Cambria need to be abated — providing a notice of abatement to property owners outlining exactly what needs to be done.

Of the 1,901 vacant parcels in Cambria, 566 failed inspection. Vincent says this number is up by almost three times the amount they normally see.

“We really attribute this to just the amount of water and rain and moisture just going beyond what we’ve ever seen in the last 10 years,” said Chief Vincent.

Chief Vincent says the lots that failed inspection were taken to the Cambria CSD Board of Directors last Thursday and declared a public nuisance. That gives Cambria CSD the legal right to abate those properties.

“… We have a contractor that is working very diligently to start addressing all 566 of those properties,” said Chief Vincent.

Vincent says the CSD will bill the property owner for the work. If they do not pay, it will be attached to their tax roll for the next year.

KSBY asked the Cal Fire San Luis Obispo unit for information about how many improved parcels in Cambria meet the guidelines for defensible space — they told me they could not provide that information by deadline today — but gave advice to homeowners in the area.

“For residents, if they can clear up to 100 feet of dead, dying materials away from the residence,” said Eric Shalhoob, Cal Fire San Luis Obispo Unit division chief. “If they can remove anything from their rain gutters, around their chimney, things of that nature.”

If a resident has a concern about their property or a neighbor’s property they can reach out to Cal Fire and request an inspection.

The CSD Fire Department is working closely with the Fire Safe Focus Group and the Fire Safe Council of San Luis Obispo County to host a chipping event on September 4. Anyone in the community with trees, brush or trimming that needs to be chipped and removed from the property is welcome to sign up at the Cambria CSD fire station.

Earlier this year the Cambria Community Service Fire Department made its first purchase of a four-wheel drive fire apparatus that can access all of the forest land areas including the Fiscalini Ranch — and anywhere off-road where a fire may start.

It will be the first wildland apparatus Cambria CSD has ever had. And Chief Vincent tells KSBY it is a critical piece of equipment that will be used to get to the base of a wildland fire before it grows into a Maui or Camp Fire situation.

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