Four Fires Scorch CA County in a Single Day

Kaytlyn Leslie, Sara Kassabian, Mackenzie Shuman, Stephanie Zappelli, and John Lynch
The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)

Oct. 31—Four fires erupted in San Luis Obispo County on Monday afternoon, collectively burning close to 200 acres — and in the case of the largest blaze, forcing an evacuation of an area high school and nearby homes.

In California Valley, the Diablo Fire scorched 80 acres and threatened a home in the area early in the afternoon, while a pair of small fires broke out near Cal Poly a few hours later but were quickly extinguished.

The largest blaze, however, the Lizzie Fire, quickly ballooned throughout the afternoon into the early evening, bringing with it evacuations, road closures and a massive emergency effort from crews who battled the fast-moving fire as it spread up a San Luis Obispo hillside.

As darkness fell, the San Luis Obispo Fire Department said the Lizzie Fire was 10% contained and holding at 100 acres.

The evacuation order was lifted for residents in the vicinity around 7:45 p.m., and evacuees were told they could return home. The city said an evacuation warning was still in effect however, and would likely remain overnight for homes in the immediate vicinity.

Additional resources joined the intense response from aerial and ground units to keep watch overnight and into the morning.

The city said an additional 300 personnel were also assigned to the fire for day operations Tuesday morning, and a reconnaissance flight was planned to fly over the fire at 8 a.m.

Fire breaks out behind SLO High School, students evacuated

The Lizzie Fire started at around 2:45 p.m. on Monday and quickly erupted into a major blaze.

Eric Prater, superintendent of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, said it appears the fire started behind the SLO High School FFA farm.

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Prater said the high school campus and district buildings were evacuated in response to the quick-moving fire — which by the early afternoon reached the top of High School Hill and moved closer to homes off of Lizzie Street. Students were evacuated to Holt Stadium, away from the fire, according to an email sent to San Luis Obispo High School parents and shared with The Tribune.

The evacuations included the high school’s farm animals.

“The positive here is that no one has been injured, everyone is evacuated, and it looks like the Fire Department is working hard to slow the spread,” Prater told The Tribune soon.

All extracurricular activities at San Luis Obispo High School were canceled due to the fire, Prater said in an email to families.

Classes were to resume as usual Tuesday morning, Prater said in the email.

Residents told to evacuate, prepare to leave as fire grows

James Blattler, emergency manager for the city of San Luis Obispo, said both evacuation orders and evacuation warnings were issued for San Luis Obispo residents, depending on their proximity to the fire.

Evacuation orders were issued for residents south of Lizzie Street, east of Fixlini Street and north of Bishop Street, Blattler said.

Anyone who left the evacuation order area was told they could not return until further notice, according to a post on X (formerly Twitter) from the Fire Department.

Evacuation warnings were issued for residents east of Johnson Avenue and south of San Luis Drive, Blattler said.

“We’re asking residents to be hyper-vigilant, hyper-aware of their surroundings. If they feel unsafe, please use that feeling as a signal to go,” Blattler said.

Johnson Avenue was shut down along Laurel Lane and San Luis Drive to help residents evacuate if needed.

Firefighters from various agencies tackled the blaze from the ground and the air, he said.

“We have fire resources focused on all sides of this fire,” he said. “We have structural protection in place all along Johnson Avenue in the homes that have been threatened by this fire.”

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He said all evacuation information would be updated on throughout the night.

Evacuated residents were routed to the Madonna Shopping Center, where a temporary evacuation site was established.

By 7:45 p.m., the evacuation order had been lifted, though an evacuation warning remained.

Not all residents near fire evacuated, despite warnings

Jess Weaver was filling up buckets of water on Lizzie Street and told the Tribune she did not plan to evacuate, despite being directed to do so.

Even amid embers landing on porch furniture and a tree burning in the backyard, Weave said she didn’t feel frenzied.

“Honestly, I’m calm,” Weaver said. “You have to be calm in this situation.”

Weaver said her main concern was making sure her house doesn’t burn and that her animals were safe — she had carriers in place, just in case.

“It’s a little close to home, obviously. It’s in the backyard,” Weaver said. “In reality, this is San Luis Obispo County. We always have fire here.

“You just have to make sure you have a plan.”

Neighbors react to Lizzie Street fire: ‘They’re really on top of it’

Wilding Lane resident Rachel McManus told The Tribune that she and her dog were ready to go if an evacuation was necessary.

Mark Fleming of Wilding Court said the rapid response from firefighters was encouraging on Monday afternoon.

“They’re really on top of it,” Fleming said. “It was really bad before, but it hasn’t gone this way too much.”

Fleming lived through a fire before in San Diego when the house next door to him burned down.

Fleming packed his photos, passports and business papers and planned to wait it out, but he fled after the eucalyptus grove between Wilding and Lizzie went up in flames.

Many people ran to their cars after the eucalyptus grove lit up.

Firefighters from across SLO County respond to Lizzie Fire

San Luis Obispo City firefighters set a staging area for firefighting personnel at the old county hospital off Bishop Street, according to emergency radio chatter on the Pulsepoint app.

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Firefighting resources from across the county were dispatched to the fire, even as resources were stretched thin due to the multiple blazes that at one point were burning throughout the county.

The Public Health building and probation offices in the Johnson Avenue area closed “out of an abundance of caution,” according to a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Classes at San Luis Coastal Adult School were also canceled Tuesday afternoon due to the fire.

California Valley fire threatens home

Meanwhile, in the rural eastern area of the County, a wildfire burned near a home in California Valley on Monday afternoon.

The vegetation fire was reported around 2:29 p.m. at a residential property near the intersection of Diablo Road and Gaviota Trail.

Fire engines, tankers and an air-to-ground response vehicle were dispatched to the scene.

According to emergency scanner traffic, the fire burned approximately 80 acres. On Monday night, crews were still working at the scene, but forward progress had been stopped.

2 fires break out near Cal Poly

Around 4 p.m., as crews worked the Lizzie Fire, two more fires broke out in San Luis Obispo, this time near Cal Poly.

The fires were reported near the Highland Drive entrance to the university: One fire burned behind the Crop Science Init on the edge of campus near Highway 1 and Stenner Creek Road, according to Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier. The other was located between the Cal Poly lemon orchard and Mustang Village, he said.

They ultimately burned about a half-acre of vegetation near the creek, a Cal Fire spokesperson told The Tribune on Monday afternoon.

As of 5:10 p.m., both fires were contained. Fire crews expected to be on the scene for a few hours mopping up the area.

Highland Drive was closed from Santa Rosa Street to California Boulevard while crews responded to the fires, Lazier said.


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Lizzie Fire Update: @SLOCityPolice has arrested one 15-year-old juvenile suspected of causing the 100-acre fire. The juvenile was booked into SLO County Juvenile Hall. This investigation is on-going. #LizzieFire #LizzieIC #SLOCity — City of San Luis Obispo (@City_of_SLO) November 1, 2023 Kaytlyn Leslie, Sara Kassabian, Mackenzie Shuman, Stephanie Zappelli, and John Lynch The Tribune […]

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