A fire burned near Poly Canyon Road on Saturday, spreading across a hill close to campus.
Bill Watton, chief of the University Police Department, received a call at about 9:15 a.m. and headed over to the site. He said that the fire burned three to four acres, but could have been worse had the weather not been particularly cool that day.
No injuries were suffered and the fire didn’t spread to the main portion of campus.
Ben Parker, division chief for the California Department of Forestry, estimated that four or five fire engines were at the scene and between 40 and 50 people were ready should the fire gain momentum.
“You have to gear up for it, presuming it’s going to get really large,” he said.
Cal Poly provided two water trucks and Parker said the fire was out within an hour. A helicopter was standing by on a mountain top should additional help be needed.
Authorities presume the fire was caused by a bird that hit a power line, causing it to spark and reach the dry grass below.
Cal Poly houses transmission lines which, according to Parker’s estimate, contain nearly 250 kilo volts. He explained that transmission lines are much more powerful than the average power lines along streets.
“It’s not unusual to have a bird strike at any time of year,” he said, adding that devices or mechanisms are often installed to keep birds away.
“The bird probably vaporized,” he said.
A similar fire occurred nearly a year ago on the opposite side of that same hill, Watton said. Parker was also present at that incident, but cited both as minor vegetation fires.
Though an additional fire occurred near the Bishop Street entrance to Terrace Hill a couple of weeks ago, Parker said this summer’s fire activity is fairly average so far.
“Brush this year is a little greener than usual,” he said, attributing that to increased rain throughout the past year. He also said that fires are very dependent on whether wind is present.
If a fire occurs, Parker said the best thing a person can do – besides dial 9-1-1 – is to have adequate clearance around his or her residence. As of January 2005, a new law was implemented that enforces buildings to have 100 feet of defensible space around them, as opposed the law that enforced 30 feet previously.
The law requires that if a residence in a largely rural area, the immediate 30 feet surrounding the house must be cleared of flammable vegetation. The remaining 70 feet of forestry or natural land should not contain too many trees or bushes, or they should be spaced out at the very least.
Parker said there are several areas in San Luis Obispo that are in violation of this, but he said that “it’s better for people to do preemptively (before there’s a fire).”
“That’s what we’re pushing for: Prevention,” he said.