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Residents fleeing Hill Fire find refuge at Red Cross evacuation center

Megan Schelllong/KCBX
Horseshoe Canyon resident Marie Burd at the Hill Fire evacuation center on Tuesday morning.

As of Tuesday evening, the Hill Fire burning east of Santa Margarita, in San Luis Obispo County, is 60 percent contained. Since the fire started Monday afternoon around 3:30 p.m., it has burned approximately 1600 acres and at least one home in a rural area of the county. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Monday evening - that order is lifted as of 7 p.m. June 27. KCBX News visited the evacuation center set up by the American Red Cross and there we met resident Marie Burd, who was forced to flee the home she shares with her husband, a Cal Poly professor, on Monday night.

“Actually my husband and I were coming back from a doctor appointment in Arroyo Grande, and we noticed the smoke and that was about 4 o’clock, and we could tell - in San Luis - it was where we live, around Pozo...we live in Horseshoe Canyon, and we did get home and it was firing some big flames,” Burd said.

The Burds have five horses, four dogs and a cat; all were successfully moved out.

“Jaymie Noland, the head of [Cal Poly’s] animal science - she came with a six-horse Cal Poly trailer and got my horses out,” Burd said. “Which that was so nice, because I didn’t have to worry about that once the horses were out, I was so grateful and I just had to worry about the dogs and the cat...and we just watched the flames...I think about 8 o’clock we loaded up and we came down here.”

Before evacuating, the Burds hiked up to the top a nearby ridgeline and witnessed one of their neighbor’s house go up in flames.

“And then something behind it, whether it was a big barn or something...something big was burning,” Burd said. “And then you heard these big booms, like a propane tanks or something...every once in awhile you’d hear a big ole kaboosh!”

Cindy Osgood is with the American Red Cross, and is serving as manager of the Hill Fire evacuation center in Santa Margarita. She says so far, about 20 evacuated residents have used the shelter’s services. Among those services are breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets, snacks, cots, blankets and toiletries.

“And we have crates for the food, cat food and bowls that animal services has provided us,” Osgood said.

The Red Cross never knows exactly how many people to expect, Osgood said.

“Our function is to offer them shelter and food. Now if they were evacuated and don’t choose to stay here, have somewhere else to stay...we’re still here,” Osgood said. “And they can come in and eat and go and do what they are going to be doing. So, it’s hard for us to guess, last night we had 20 extra folks show up, but they got all their information together and made a game plan and they left....but we’re here, for however many show up.”

On Tuesday, CalFire spokesperson Chris Elms visited the center to provide an update to evacuees and answer any questions. He said the cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

“There was a vehicle fire in the area that is being considered as part of the investigation,” Elms said. “At this point though, the fire is still currently under investigation.”

Elms says the Hill Fire marks the start of the fire season.

“This is pretty much on par for the years at this point, we’re starting to see more intense fires as the fuel moisture is dropping in the summertime and we always have that grass crop that come up with heavy rains this year that’s just kinda the fuse that takes the fire from a grassfire into a heavy vegetation fire like we saw yesterday,” Elms said.

An 24-hour evacuation order was in place for the area of Huer Huero Road to Highway 58, including Black Mountain Resort, Blue, Blue Ridge and Shooting Star Roads and Golden Pon and Random Canyon ways. The Hill Fire evacuation center  was set up at Santa Margarita Elementary School on H Street.

CalFire announced the evacuation for area residents is being lifted at 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening. The evacuation center will close after all residents are back home. 

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