With debris piling up in the waterway, and homeless encampments posing a fire risk, the city of Paso Robles has has declared the Salinas Riverbed from Niblick Bridge north to city limits as a high fire danger.
Battalion Chief Jay Enns said they’ve responded to over 40 fires along the riverbed this year.
“We have determined most, if not all, fires down there are human-caused," Enns said. " The majority of them I think are accidental.”
Enns said the fires are breaking out in areas where there are encampments of homeless people.
Police Chief Ty Lewis said community action team leaders, as well as homeless and mental health-related service officials, have been down there trying to get people to vacate and take their belongings with them.
That's a challenging task, Lewis said, since many aren’t receptive to the help and services being offered.
“A lot of them struggle with dependency issues, income issues," Lewis said. "I think the more of those challenges they have combined makes it a lot harder for them to find the right services to access them and stick with it.”
Lewis said the city has also been conducting cleanups to help remove trash along the riverbed.
“Just since the beginning of the year, we’ve cleaned up about 50,000 pounds worth of trash in these camps," Lewis said. "We have more scheduled to clear out all of these camps that we possibly can that might provide some sort of measurable relief as it relates to the potential for fires.”
To also help in the effort, 650 goats have been let loose to chew their way through the fire-prone brush. Enns said the goats will help clear a path to prevent these fires from spreading to nearby houses.
“What we are looking to graze this year is about 80 acres, and that's the primary fuel breaks," Enns said. "And then [there are] plans in the future to address additional pockets of fuel.”
The city said overall mitigation efforts this year will cost about $300,000.