Fire season has hit Santa Barbara County, and local fire protection agencies are working to strengthen their resources and remind people about fire safety.
Fire chiefs from state, county and local agencies declared the opening of fire season in Santa Barbara County on May 13. Fire season, which normally lasts from May until October or November, is declared when grassland becomes ignitable. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 53 fires burned approximately 350 acres of land in Los Padres National Forest, one of California’s largest national forests that lies partly in Santa Barbara County, during the last fire season.
Curtis Vincent, a wildland fire specialist for the Montecito Fire Protection District, said the combination of a lack of spring rain this year along with the shortage of fuel moisture in forest brush will make this fire season particularly severe.
“Even though we got two to three inches of rain this year, the timing of the rain was not helpful. For Los Padres National Forest, where strong rains are needed to prevent fires, the storms that came in during the fall were very small,” Vincent said. “Fuel moisture in brush is a driving factor that affects how a fire will burn. Fuel moisture is currently at a level that it is usually at in July.”
An increase in staffing and equipment is one way local fire agencies hope to protect citizens during this year’s fire season.
The Santa Barbara County Fire Dept., an agency that protects private land in the county, will retain the same number of firefighters on staff but will send more fire engines to calls during fire season. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF), an agency that protects privately owned wildland, will have 12 additional fire engines and other equipment to ensure adequate coverage during fire season, Deputy Chief Steve Heil said.
“When a fire occurs, agencies respond with the closest resources. Along with 32 fire engines, we will have three bulldozers, aircraft from a local airbase and 40 additional people on duty daily to respond to calls,” Heil said. “CDF must be helpful to other agencies. The key to resolving an incident is sending anyone you need and not worrying about jurisdiction.”
The U.S. Forest Service, which is in charge of protecting public forestland, is also increasing staffing and equipment for the season. The service will establish 14 fire prevention units, utilizing equipment like helicopters and an air attack plane for protecting the forest.
There have been signs of a severe fire season throughout the western United States for a few months. In February, a grass fire burned in the area of Vista, near San Diego, destroying several homes in the rural community. In April, fires broke out in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico that required the interagency response of many firefighters.
Fire agencies are working to make people aware of their personal responsibility to preventing fires. Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. Captain Charlie Johnson said students are not exempt from responsibility with fire.
“The bottom line is that people need to work as a team to make their area fire-safe,” Johnson said. “Students have a responsibility to use recreational facilities in a safe manner. If students party, they need to party wisely. Students cannot afford to be responsible for stupid actions.”