By Casi McIntyre
From air quality to evacuation, the Chimney Fire in San Luis Obispo County burned Cuesta students in many different ways.
The Chimney Fire threatened many treasured homes and popular vacation spots for residents of SLO, burning over 46,000 acres of land. Fire was the hot topic of many student’s conversations, as many in the North County’s population were forced to evacuate.
“The fire [is] on my side of the lake right now and they’ve evacuated everyone up to where I live,” said Katie Middleton, a third year history major. “I am packed and ready for whenever I do have to leave.”
The fire burned near Lake Naciemento, and cut off access to the day use areas that many students enjoy.
Savannah Speich, also a Cuesta student, was at the lake when the fire started. Many helicopters were lifting water from the lake to douse the flames, she recalled. Alongside friends, Speich was enthralled by the show, but quickly left due to the smoky haze that filled the air.
Speich is not the only student who enjoys the lake during the late summer. The 18 mile long lake allows for boating, water skiing, fishing and camping. Losing access to Lake Naciemento would be a tragic loss for students and families around the area.
Kept in his family for 45 years, Eric Johnson’s vacation home in Christmas Cove was threatened by the blaze.
“Yeah, [my mom] is the one who spends the most time at the house and she can’t get in or out. It’s a little scary,” said Johnson, a second year journalism major. The area was mandated to evacuate, but Johnson’s home was safe from destruction.
The inferno burned 49 houses in the Cal Shasta area and 21 other structures were caught in the path of the flames.
“Embers get [caught] in the attic and they smolder,” said Zach Nichols, Cal Fire Battalion Chief. “…this is how the attics catch fire,” said Nichols, describing how the houses in the remote area burned down.
The mass vegetation surrounding the houses is fuel for the ravenous fire, stated Nichols.
The Chimney Fire was one of 12 active fires that were ablaze in California. The alarmingly high number of wildfires is due to the state coming into its fifth year of drought, with SLO County not seeing rain since early spring this year.
While rain hasn’t sprinkled lately, ash fell and dirtied cars for about a week during the fire. Students on Cuesta’s campus noticed the change in air quality as the late afternoons smelled of campfire and red sunsets filled the skies.
While the Chimney Fire destroyed many local’s houses and burned away a cherished woodland, Cuesta’s students walked away with only minor scratches. The fire was contained on Sept 6.
“…I know there’s a lot more people in the community out here affected worse than I am,” said Middleton.