Cuesta Fire Forces Temporary Closure of Santa Lucia Wilderness

If you live in San Luis Obispo County, you’re probably already aware of the Cuesta Fire, which has been burning near Santa Margarita for the past several days. Due to the spread of the fire, the Los Padres National Forest has issued a closure order for a portion of the forest that is affected by this fire.

The Cuesta Fire was sparked by a suspected vehicle fire along Highway 101 on Sunday, August 16, 2015. The fire originated on the Cuesta Grade just north of San Luis Obispo and quickly spread, crossing over Cuesta Ridge and threatening the town of Santa Margarita to the north. As of today (August 22, 2015), the fire has burned 3,500 acres, mostly on Los Padres National Forest land.

Here’s the good news: the fire is currently 55% contained, and full containment is expected by Wednesday, August 26th. The threat to the town of Santa Margarita has been eliminated and roads in the area have been re-opened. Air tankers that were dropping on the fire earlier this week have been released, and the fire is now being fought with ground crews and water-dropping helicopters.

Now for the not-so-good news: The fire has burned into the Santa Lucia Wilderness, and the Forest Service has issued a temporary closure order for the area in the interest of public safety and to allow firefighters better access to the area. The closure order goes into effect today (August 22nd), and runs through October 1, 2015. You can read the full text of the order here.

So, what areas of the forest are affected by the closure order? Basically, everything from Cuesta Pass southeast to the border of the Garcia Wilderness. This includes the following trails and facilities:

Here’s a map of the closure area boundaries. Note that this map does not show the areas that have actually burned, which are much smaller and clustered near the western boundary of the closure area:

FO 15-10 Cuesta Fire Closure Order map

A map of the Cuesta Fire Closure Order boundaries.

Now, it should probably be noted that late summer is not the best time of year for outdoor recreation in this area, fire or no fire. Daytime temperatures are normally in the 90s, and can reach well over 100 degrees on occasion. Water sources are few and far between, and with the current drought situation most water sources in the backcountry have dwindled to muddy potholes or dried up altogether. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a day hiking opportunity in the local area, I’d recommend the Cerro Alto Trail network or the West Cuesta Ridge Road.

Here are some additional resources for further information about the Cuesta Fire:

If you have any further questions about the Cuesta Fire or the closure order, post them in the comments below, or contact the Santa Lucia Ranger District office in Santa Maria at (805) 925-9538.

UPDATE 1: As of today (Monday, August 24th, 2015) containment is now up to 80% and the acreage burned remains at 3,500. Full containment is still expected by Wednesday, August 26th, 2015.

UPDATE 2: The Cuesta Fire was declared 100% contained on Friday, August 28, 2015. Due to better mapping, the number of acres burned was reduced from 3,500 to 2,446. The Closure Order remains in effect to allow for mop-up and restoration efforts, but will expire on October 1, 2015.

UPDATE 3: On September 10, 2015, the Los Padres National Forest issued an updated Closure Order, #15-11. This new order reduces the size of the closed area by re-opening areas in the eastern portion of the original order that were not affected by the fire. Areas in the western portion of the original order remain closed. The order also extends the closure through December 1, 2015. Locations that remain closed include the following:

  • Big Falls Trail (14E02)
  • East Cuesta Ridge Road (30S10)
  • Hi Mountain Campground
  • Hi Mountain Road (30S05)
  • Hi Mountain Lookout
  • Hi Mountain Lookout Road (30S11)
  • Little Falls Trail
  • Sulphur Pot Trail Camp
  • Upper Lopez Road (31S06)
  • Upper Lopez Trail (15E03)
  • Upper Lopez Trail Camp

The following locations are now re-opened:

Here’s a map of the revised Closure Area:

FO 15-11 Cuesta Fire Closure Order map

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