A Lopez Lake Fire Briefing on September 21, 2019.

Behind the Scenes at Lopez Fire

Author: Office of Emergency Services
Date: 9/26/2019 9:14:17 AM

County agencies helped people and their furry – and feathered – friends evacuate residential areas affected by the Lopez Fire last weekend.

Firefighters worked to put out a vegetation fire this weekend that would eventually injure four people, threaten 24 structures, and grow to more than 200 acres. A total of 515 fire personnel, eight fire crews and 20 fire engines were assigned to the fire.

Sheriff's deputies helped residents and campers evacuate during the Lopez Fire, September 2019.Facing steep, rugged terrain and increasing temperatures, firefighters are still making good progress on the fire, which is 70% contained at the time of this writing. According to CALFIRE, firefighters improved the existing fire line, constructed an additional fire line in other areas, and worked to reduce life hazards such as large trees damaged by the fire near trails and roadways. PG&E has also been replacing damaged poles and will continue those efforts over the next couple of days. 

Other County departments also stepped in over the weekend to lend a hand to residents and campers who needed assistance evacuating. The vegetation fire broke out on Saturday, September 21 at around 2:30 p.m., and soon the County Office of Emergency Services (OES) team was called in to help coordinate the location of the Incident Command Post. They worked with County Parks and Recreation staff at Lopez Lake Recreation Area, who coordinated the use of Biddle Park as a staging area for response operations. County Parks and Recreation staff also helped patrol the area and communicate with campers to ensure their safety.

By 4:17 p.m., evacuations at Camp French in the Lopez Lake Recreation Area were already underway. The County Sheriff’s Office soon issued a Reverse 911 warning to residents within a two-mile radius on Upper Lopez Canyon Road near Camp French.

But where would evacuated residents and campers go? County Parks and Recreation officials, including Parks Director Nick Franco, stepped up to find space for evacuees at other County-operated campgrounds, including El Chorro Regional Park.

Ducks and geese evacuated from a residence during the Lopez Fire, September 2019.By 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, all campsites were full, but four evacuated residents with 15 ducks and geese still needed help. The residents wanted to stay with their animals overnight and were open to camping. OES staff called County Parks officials and the Animal Services Division of the County’s Health Agency to assist.

While there were no open campsites left, County Park Ranger Brandon Young found a place at El Chorro Regional Park for the family to stay for the night. Staff moved quickly and helped the family get settled with their birds. The family at El Chorro was not fully prepared to camp and while they had tents, they had no sleeping bags, pillows, etc. Animal Services was able to use supplies from their disaster response trailer to provide the family with sleeping pads, bedding, and blankets to make their stay more comfortable. To assist even further, County Animal Services Manager Eric Anderson brought several cages, food and water for the birds. The American Red Cross provided the family with additional financial assistance the next day, so they could stay there for another night.

On Sunday, another evacuated family grew more and more concerned about their pets’ welfare – two cats and seven large dogs remained at their home near the fire. A Sheriff’s Deputy escorted the family into the area to bring the pets food and water, and then escorted them back out. As the fire grew, the family requested assistance in evacuating their pets. County OES staff again called Anderson, who personally drove with Animal Control Officer Nina Moody and one of the pet owners to move the animals to safe shelter at the Animal Services facility in San Luis Obispo. The family was able to sleep well that night knowing that their animals were safe. The County Animal Services team also provided food and water for another five feral cats, which were left to shelter in place as their temperament precluded their capture.

Residents have been allowed to return home but are advised to stay fire ready. Cooperating fire agencies included CAL FIRE SLO (County Fire Department), Forest Service, Five Cities, Paso Robles City, SLO City, Santa Maria City and Santa Barbara County.

CAL FIRE investigators determined the cause of the Lopez Fire to be improper extinguishment of a campfire. The investigation into the people responsible is ongoing. Anyone with information regarding the person or persons responsible for starting the Lopez Fire is asked to contact Crime Stoppers Hotline at 805-549-7867. Callers can remain anonymous. 

For important real-time emergency and disaster information, members of the public are encouraged to visit www.readyslo.org.