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Crews getting a handle on Avila Fire, residents breathing sigh of relief

Avila Fire
A Five Cities Fire Authority engine sits in a Shell Beach community while firefighters work at the Avila Fire. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SHELL BEACH, Calif. -- The Avila Fire continues to burn in the hills above Shell Beach.

As of Tuesday evening, it had officially charred 400 acres and was 50 percent contained.

Less than a day after the fire roared down the hillside and nearly into several neighborhoods that line Mattie Road, residents are breathing a sigh of relief.

"It's absolutely incredible," said Taylor Saputo, who grew up in the area. "Seeing how close it got to so many of the houses here. It was close to my neighborhood, so we're all just so lucky today."

Bright blue skies framed Shell Beach during the day. It was in stark contrast to Monday evening when thick, heavy smoke rose high above the coastal community and could be seen for many miles.

"Really scary time, obviously, it's something that you think could happen," said Saputo. "It's always in the back of your mind. We're so thankful and lucky to have our first responders, who were able to act quickly and save all of our homes, but it could have been a lot worse, so feeling very thankful."

Firefighters continued to work hard Tuesday, battling the fire on both the ground and from the air.

"The real tough spots that crews are focusing on is on the eastern edge of the fire perimeter," said James Blattler, San Luis Obispo Fire Department public information officer. "That's in steep, rugged terrain. We do have ground crews working, putting hose line in, trying to tie all the lines together, so that way they have a real solid perimeter around the whole thing."

Blattler said crews were receiving an extra boost from the nearby Pacific Ocean.

"Helicopters have been able to drop their buckets into the water and bring it directly into the fire, so real short turnarounds, and you're able to get water on the hard to reach areas a lot faster, so a great resource to have here," said Blattler. "Sometimes you just get a little bit lucky and here we've got a great resource with the water there to be able to quickly douse the fire in the hard to reach areas."

Among the hundreds of people who had to evacuate during the fire were employees at Pismo Beach City Hall, which sits right along the hillside.

The fire not only forced the city to relocate it's emergency operations center, it also caused another major problem.

"We needed to get things out of City Hall," said city manager Jim Lewis. "There's important documents. There's the city seal. There's different pieces of art we have, and so we wanted to get those out in just a few minutes and get out and protect that part of the community's history."

Even as city officials wrestled with major challenges, Lewis stressed the city was prepared to handle the emergency.

"We drill in our emergency operations center three to four times a year. Just so we're used to, how do we prepare, plan and respond and communicate, and for this very fire. We drilled this not very long ago and to that end, we prepared an emergency pre-plan," said Lewis. "This shows, where do we stage evacuations? Where should engines line up? Where are water resources? Where do we call when people call, so when people from out of our community come, we hand them this map and it has all the tools on it, and so we were very prepared for the fire to come this way. It did and our firefighters knew exactly what to do. We knew exactly how to evacuate our residents."

At the same time fire crews worked to extinguish the Avila Fire, a handful of other smaller fires broke out across San Luis Obispo County on Tuesday.

It's a reminder the threat of wildfire is now high.

"We do have some incidents popping up in different areas in the county, so we do have resources being assigned in those areas," said Blattler. "Forrtunately, we're prepared for this. We come prepared for multiple fires to happen in our area, and we need to hail on resources to come from different areas, we do that, and just like we assist other areas when they're having tough times."

California / Community / Safe at Home / Safety / San Luis Obispo County

Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at KCOY|KEYT|KKFX.