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Brief History

Cuesta Conservation Camp is a 100-man institution-based inmate fire-fighting camp located on property leased from the California National Guard at Camp San Luis Obispo. Cuesta Conservation Camp (CC 24) was formally activated on May 1, 1962 as CAL FIRE's 24th conservation camp.  Cuesta Camp is located approximately six miles west of San Luis Obispo on State Highway 1.


Current staffing at Camp consists of a Division Chief, twelve Fire Crew Captains, and a Heavy Equipment Mechanic. When fully staffed, the number of fire crew-eligible inmates assigned to Camp constitutes the five fire crews at 17 fire fighters each. Each fire crew is trained and supervised by an experienced and competent fire captain. Additional inmates staff in-camp positions that include a mixture of reserve fire fighters and non-fire fighter camp support personnel. These men work in the camp shops and/or perform maintenance, and clerical services.

Additional staffing located at Camp includes an office manager (Office Technician) and two Heavy Fire Equipment Operators who staff a fire-fighting bulldozer and transport unit as well as assist with vehicle maintenance and repair.

Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)

The conservation program is jointly administered by CAL FIRE and CDCR.  The inmates assigned to Cuesta Camp are provided from the California Men’s Colony (CMC) located just west of San Luis Obispo.  Each work day, the inmates are picked up by CAL FIRE personnel, taken to work projects or training assignments and then returned at the end of the day.  CDCR also provides trained staff that accompanies the fire crews when they respond to emergencies up and down the state.  The CAL FIRE camp division chief and the CDCR camp lieutenant work hand in hand to make the program work.


The site is located approximately six miles west of San Luis Obispo on State Highway 1 and some six miles due east of the ocean.

San Luis Obispo County is rural in nature. The most important industries include agriculture, tourism, and recreation. Major transportation arteries in or near Camp include State Highways 1, 101, and the Union Pacific railway. Two seaports are also nearby in at Morro Bay and San Luis Bay. The county’s commercial airport is located at San Luis Obispo.

Fire crews assigned at Cuesta Camp provide initial attack fire suppression and related services to approximately 2.1 million of acres of state, federal, and local responsibility area. The initial attack area includes the northern portion of Los Padres National Forest, the north half of Santa Barbara County, the western portion of Bureau of Land Management’s Bakersfield District, as well as 175,000 acres of local responsibility area

Special areas and target hazards located in Cuesta's initial attack area include the California condor breeding areas, several federal wilderness areas and special preserves, as well as several states parks, including Hearst Castle and San Simeon State Park. Cal Poly and Camp San Luis Obispo National Guard facility both contain large holdings of State Responsibility Area. Unique areas of interest within Cuesta initial attack area are the Hearst-San Simeon State Historical Monument and Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.

The nearest CAL FIRE conservation camps are Ventura (Youth) Conservation Camp to the south in Ventura County and Gabilan Conservation Camp to the north in Monterey County.

Cuesta Camp personnel provide fire fighter protective clothing repair and sewing services to the local CAL FIRE unit through the sewing shop. The Camp also provides silkscreen services through the silkscreen shop. CAL FIRE units and camps statewide as well as a variety of cooperating agencies, such as Corrections, utilize these products and services.

Current Significant Projects

La Purisima Mission State Park – The Mission recently acquired 2000 additional acres and Cuesta crews are currently developing boundary fencing and hiking trails.

Morro Bay State Park – Pitch Canker has affected about 900 trees in the native Monterey pine forest and adjoining golf course. Cuesta crews fell the trees and burn or chip the slash. This project provides fuel reduction and improves the health of the forest.

Hearst Castle State Park – Fire Crews assist with reducing the wildland fuels in an around this unique tourist attraction by removing excess flammable vegetation and then chipping or burning the slash.

Fire Safe and Vegetation Management – Cuesta crews chip excess vegetation in communities that no longer allow open dooryard burning. Crews also construct fuel breaks and remove vegetation around structures. Cuesta crews are heavily involved in vegetation management projects in and around the community of Cambria. They are creating a series of fuel breaks to protect the community from wildland fires.

Community Service Projects

In addition to emergency services, Cuesta Camp provides many services to several state, local, quasi-governmental, and non-public agencies and organizations. These services include fire defense improvements such as brush clearing and vegetation management burns Flood defense preparations include sand bagging, repairing levees, and flood channel clearing.

Crews also provide fence repair, and hazard tree removal from state parks. Although the work priority for fire crews revolve around wildland fuel and hazard reduction, general cleanup and labor services are provided to public agencies needing a larger labor pool than they are able to produce internally. Trail maintenance, clearing flood channels, providing fire wood to campgrounds, and labor services to the California National Guard are examples of these services. A recent project involved repairing and re-roofing several buildings housing the State’s museum for the original Civilian Conservation Corps. Of special note is a current project involving the reconstruction of a mission-era Chumash Indian village on the grounds of the La Purisima Mission State Park. This project also included the reconstruction of the canal system that served the original Mission. Cuesta crews recently installed a handicap accessible boardwalk at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area.


Cuesta Camp trains its own inmate crewmembers to become competent firefighters. The camp's training captain gives the 67-hour firefighter course. The safe use of mechanized power tools such as chain saws, weed whackers, and chippers, is also provided to every inmate fire fighter. . The local CAL FIRE Training Bureau often uses the Camp's classroom as an additional training site.

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Cuesta Camp's training captain also coordinates the annual crew preparedness exercise for each fire crew at Cuesta Camp. Camp personnel are fortunate to have a wide variety of areas for hiking, cutting, and felling. Areas of thick coastal brush provide excellent training for fireline construction and the elimination of diseased pines on State Parks property provides critical tree-falling practice.

What Sets Cuesta Camp Apart

At its opening in May of 1962, Cuesta Camp was unique in two ways. First, it was the first institution-based camp in the CAL FIRE camp system

Second, the actual camp administrative site is located almost three miles distant from CMC on the grounds of the California National Guard’s (CNG) Camp San Luis Obispo military reservation, (original home of the California National Guard). Cuesta Camp is situated on the site of a closed World War II-era motor pool. Several existing buildings and structures originally constructed in the early 1940’s were remodeled and re-utilized for the camp.

Miscellaneous Information

The Unit’s South County Mobile Equipment Repair Facility is also located at Cuesta Camp. Due to its location, Cuesta Camp is routinely and regularly used as a temporary staging area for other CAL FIRE fire crews during move-up and cover assignments.

Cuesta Camp operates a CAL FIRE Mobile Kitchen Units (MKU). This unit and its trailer provide feeding to fire and support personnel assigned to emergency incidents. The Cuesta MKU is substantially self-contained and can feed up to 500 personnel within 5 hours of arrival at the incident. It can feed up to 2,000 personnel after the first 24 hours

Mobile Equipment

The following list identifies all wheeled-apparatus assigned to Cuesta Camp:

7 Emergency Crew Transports (ECT) (166K PDF)
1 Mobile Kitchen Units (134K PDF)
1 MKU Support Trailer @ 42 feet
1 Stakeside, six-passenger
1 10-passenger van
1 Extended cab pickup
1 Camp division chief vehicle
1 Grader
1 Front-end loader
1 Dump truck (10-wheel)
Miscellaneous construction equipment (chipper, compressor trailer, and concrete mixer) 



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