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Soberanes Fire: Protecting Cachagua While Herding the Fire

As helicopters fly overhead, a cloud of dark gray smoke rises into the sky.  The sun appears red.   But Steve Schuster stands in the driveway of his Cachagua home relaxed.  

His house is tucked into the mountainside under a canopy of trees. The whole front yard is filled with animals.  And Schuster is sipping ice water from a mason jar.

“Yeah, wait and see.  And just be ready to go if we have to,” says Schuster.

He and his wife have all their must-haves packed up inside the house.  Their car is in the driveway facing out.  And then there are all those animals.

“Oh man, we have seven goats, thirty chickens, three ducks, four turkeys, six puppies, two dogs.  I think that’s it.   I’m working now on a trailer to make  my own little ark and kind of drive out with them,” says Schuster.

With the fire at his back, Schuster’s confidence comes from firefighters who have been out here working to get days ahead of this wildfire.  

“I’ll probably stay here even when the fire comes because they built such a beautiful fire break.  It's maybe a football field wide and miles and miles long,” says Schuster.

Bulldozers have torn out a wide swath of trees and bushes leaving nothing but dirt.  Standing on a nearby hill, CalFire’s Danny Cook points out that fire break on the ridge behind Schuster’s house.

“We are fairly confident that it will hold. Fire is going to move up through that vegetation into the control line, stop. Fire goes out,” says Cook.

And where bulldozers can’t go, firefighters can go on foot.  Wayne Key’s  crew out of southern Arizona is hiking a mile down a powdery dirt road to cut a line with hand tools and chainsaws.  He says whether a hand line will stop the fire depends on the fire’s intensity.

“If it’s coming at us hard, maybe not.  But put some fire down. Light it.  Maybe we will have a chance,” says Key.

What he’s talking about is back burning: setting controlled fires to destroy trees and shrubs before the wild fire can get to them.   It's what firefighters have been doing in Cachagua.

CalFire’s Danny Cook says all these tactics combined help protect homes here, and herd the wild fire in the direction they want it to go. Which is away from these remote homes and even deeper into this rugged country.

“It’s been being pushed toward the Los Padres National Forest because not a lot of threat to structures out there, just a wild open area,” says Cook.

Much of the fire is already in the Los Padres National Forest and once it’s all in there, CalFire says it could take until the end for the month before it’s fully contained.