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Grand jury says Cambria is more fire resilient, but recommends another investigation 

Fire resilience is a hot topic in Cambria right now.

Just a month after the California Coastal Commission approved a vegetation treatment program for fire prevention, a recently released report details how the Cambria Community Services District (CSD) and other agencies worked to mitigate the town's fire risk after the SLO County grand jury called them to task in 2015 and 2017.

click to enlarge FIRE RISK A recently released continuity report gives updates on Cambria's fire risk mitigation. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY CAL FIRE
  • File Photo Courtesy Of Slo County Cal Fire
  • FIRE RISK A recently released continuity report gives updates on Cambria's fire risk mitigation.

The report recommends that the 2022-23 grand jury conduct a new investigation to determine if the Cambria CSD Fire Department and Cal Fire have complied with their own fire risk mitigation standards.

"I think it's been a constructive and collaborative effort that the grand jury helped to facilitate," said grand jury member Jeffrey Munks, who serves on the committee that oversees continuity reports like this one.

Munks said the jury is pleased with the progress so far but added that it needs to be maintained, hence the recommendation that the next jury conduct a follow-up investigation.

"It's obviously a never-ending process," he said. "Everything the community can do proactively in the area now to prepare for a fire or other emergency is an investment worth making."

Some of the accomplishments outlined in the report include fire hydrant maintenance by the Cambria CSD; a partnership between the Cambria CSD Fire Department, the SLO Fire Safe Council, and Cal Poly to fund evacuation studies; and implementing evacuation software, signage, and emergency messaging.

One area the CSD has had a harder time addressing is the removal of dead trees on private property. The 2019 California Fire Code was adopted by the Cambria CSD in December 2019 and ratified by the SLO County Board of Supervisors in February 2020. However, an amendment requiring the removal of dead trees wasn't included, the report said, "due to the potential economic and financial impact to the residents."

"With recent ecological reports suggesting, and as identified in the initial grand jury report, that between 40 to 80 percent of the Monterey pine forest in Cambria is dead or dying, it would be financially devastating to require their removal," the report stated.

That being said, the Fire Safe Council has made progress in this area, according to council manager Dan Turner.

"The Fire Safe Council has been very active in the Cambria area removing dead and dying trees and French broom to protect roadways and evacuation routes," Turner said. "We've been doing that since the original report, and have probably eradicated 95 percent of the French broom in Cambria."

The council is also a key partner in a recently approved public works plan that establishes a 10-year vegetation treatment program to enhance ecosystems and improve wildfire resilience.

The Covell Ranch project, the first approved under the public works plan, got the thumbs up from the Coastal Commission at its Oct. 15 meeting. As New Times previously reported, the privately owned Covell Ranch is on the outskirts of Cambria and has a conservation easement held by the Nature Conservancy. Collaborators on the project include the Fire Safe Council and Cal Fire.

Turner said the recommendations that the grand jury set out in its report go "hand in glove" with the goals of the public works plan and Covell Ranch Project.

"It's a dual purpose," he said. "One to reduce the fire risk, and the other to restore the forest to a healthier condition." Δ

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