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County braces for a long fire season

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Paso Robles broke a 17-year-long record on Saturday, July 6, after experiencing temperatures up to 114 degrees near the Paso Robles Airport, surpassing its previous record of 110 degrees in 2007.

"Obviously, we broke records here in the city of Paso Robles over the weekend," Paso Robles Fire Chief Jonathan Stornetta said. "And the heat remains a concern."

Since the holiday weekend, the Central Coast was under an extreme heat warning issued by the National Weather Service, and the temperatures were anticipated to remain high through the end of the week.

HOT, HOT, HOT The Franklin Fire burns a total of 53 acres near the 3000 block of Creston Road in Paso Robles on July 8. - PHOTO FROM CAL FIRE SLO X PAGE
  • Photo From Cal Fire SLO X Page
  • HOT, HOT, HOT The Franklin Fire burns a total of 53 acres near the 3000 block of Creston Road in Paso Robles on July 8.

"Some of the biggest concerns for the [Paso Robles] Fire Department is just the temperatures and a low humidity, which is about 5 percent to 15 percent, so those are critical fire weather levels," Stornetta said.

He encouraged the public not to use any ignition sources around dry, grassy areas.

According to Stornetta, as of July 8, there were 23 active fires in the state, and there have been 3,300 fires statewide this year, which have burned 150,000 acres of land, damaged 34 structures, and destroyed 79.

Of those 23 fires, the Franklin Fire off of the 3000 block of Creston Road in Paso Robles burned 53 acres on July 8 and left more than 2,000 residents affected by power outages.

"It's looking like it's going to be a busy year, like we've seen many, many years in a row here," he said.

The Fire Department is not only concerned about the potential for fires but the public's preparedness for evacuation.

Prior to July 4, SLO County was on the list for Public Safety Power Shutoffs, when power companies turn power off in areas experiencing extreme weather, such as heat waves, to reduce the risk of fires. Although now off that list, Stornetta stressed that power outages can still occur.

"Even though we're out of the PSPS [Public Safety Power Shutoff], a flex alert could happen at any point," he said.

Flex alerts are not scheduled but happen when energy supply becomes uncertain due to various impacts such as weather.

"We really don't have any control over that," he said. "So that goes back to our neighbors being prepared."

Stornetta said preparedness includes packing a bag with important medications, dog food, ice chests, and phone chargers to keep in touch with family and friends, for example.

"And you know we want them to stay hydrated too because we have seen an increase in our responses due to the heat," he said.

The Paso Robles Fire Department on average receives 15 calls per day for emergencies—within the first week of July it has averaged 32.

In addition to promoting public preparedness, the city has established cooling centers for residents to avoid overheating due to a power outage or lack of air conditioning.

Locations include the Paso Robles Senior Center and city library, which can remain open past typical business hours if needed. The El Camino Homeless Organization also provided a cooling center not only for its residents but all members of the community in need.

According to SLO County Emergency Services Coordinator Anita Konopa, the county only provides cooling centers if temperatures reach a certain threshold—thresholds that hadn't been met in unincorporated areas as of New Times press time.

County cooling center thresholds are triggered when daytime temperatures reach 105 degrees for two consecutive days with nighttime temperatures of 80 degrees or higher.

Because temperatures in Templeton, for example, have neared 110 degrees during the day, its 60-degree evenings cool the area enough for the county to determine no cooling center is needed.

Konopa said the county has extended county pool hours for the summer and encouraged the public to drink plenty of fluids and limit outdoor physical activities during times of extreme heat. Δ

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