On Sept. 26, a 97-acre fire broke out on the hill behind Sierra Madre and Yosemite Halls. The fire was declared no longer a threat Sept. 27, according to Cal Fire Public Information Officer Chris Elms.
“The Poly Fire is completely wrapped up … we haven’t had a fire engine on that fire since probably Saturday [Sept. 30], it’s a done deal,” Elms said.
Both the cause and cost of the fire are still unknown, but that hillside has had wildland fires in the past, according to university spokesperson Matt Lazier. In 2008, there was a fire in the same general area.
Cal Poly’s campus is surrounded by grassland and chaparral, both of which are classified as moderate to high risk fire hazard severity zones according to CalFire.
“I think if you look at the hillside, you can see the scars in the grass up there from old burns,” Elms said.
According to Lazier, burns to grassland area can recover within a matter of seasons, but chaparral and other vegetation may take longer to fully regrow.
After the fire, wildlife was forced to adapt, Lazier said.
“It is likely that most of the larger wildlife species such as deer and coyote were able to escape the fire,” Lazier said. “Smaller mammals, birds and insects typically recover quickly and adjust to the new growth once it is initiated.”
Lazier explained that this type of fire, although harmful to humans, is actually considered beneficial to the environment, as it helps regenerate vegetation. Wildfires allow for nutrients to be returned to the soil, as dead matter is burned off, and also help disinfect disease-ridden plants and remove harmful insects from the ecosystem. In cases of thick canopies, wildfires can allow for sunlight to reach the forest floor, enabling new seedlings to develop.
Effects on Fremont
Last year, Cal Poly students living in Fremont Hall had to evacuate due to mudslide concerns from shifting soil behind the residence hall. Many students were relocated to different housing locations due to safety precautions.
Lazier said only a small portion of the Poly Fire overlaps with the Fremont landslide zone.
Although it is possible for the hill to be a problematic territory during future rainstorms, the Facilities Management and Development department said the hill is currently being analyzed to identify any pre-winter preparatory actions, and will also be monitored during the initial winter rains.
The department also added that sub-surface drainage systems were recently installed to prevent any damaging effects from run-off from upcoming winter rains for the area.