James Taylor once said, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain.” But if he lived in Santa Barbara, instead of fire, he’d now likely be seeing rain and tainted shellfish.
Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. Capt. Charlie Johnson said the amount of rain that fell this weekend was more than the minimum necessary to declare the 2002 fire season officially over.
“As a cautionary measure, we usually need two inches of rain before [the fire dept.] can say the fire season is over with,” Johnson said.
Although the fire department has announced the end of fire season prematurely in past years, Johnson said his department would likely make a statement regarding the end of fire season sometime tomorrow.
“Once before, we said it was over, and then we didn’t get any [rain] for weeks, so we’ll see about that,” he said.
According to the National Weather Service, various areas of the county received about 5.75 inches of rain. Johnson said a precipitation measurement station on Los Carneros Road – the station nearest Isla Vista – measured slightly more than two inches of rainfall this weekend.
Ending fire season means the fire dept. can lower the level of available responding units, Johnson said. These changes include the elimination of seasonal Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employees and the removal of bulldozer and helicopter units from standby fire response.
“We take our vehicles in for maintenance, too,” Johnson said. “Now is when we can take care of these things before the fire season begins again in May.”
On Friday, Andrea E. Tuttle, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection director, issued a statement lifting the county’s ban on burning. Under normal circumstances, residents of Santa Barbara County may apply for a permit to burn materials such as leaves or grass clippings on their property. During the fire season, however, such burning is banned due to the risk of the fire becoming out of control.
In addition to dousing the risk of fire, the past weekend also changed the state of local seawater. On Friday, Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services issued a runoff advisory. According to a statement from Peggy Langle, director of Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services, the first significant rain after a lengthy dry period is likely to contain high levels of pollutants.
People swimming or surfing in water within three days of the rain could exhibit rashes, fever, chills, ear infections, vomiting and diarrhea – all of which are potentially symptoms of serious illnesses like gastroenteritis, salmonellosis or hepatitis.
If people choose to swim in the ocean, the department encourages them to swim away from discolored water and drainpipes and creeks through which runoff enters the ocean.
People are also discouraged from eating shellfish between four and 12 days after the rain, as shellfish may contain levels of bacteria, pesticides, herbicides and oil that even thorough cooking will not eliminate.
The most recent beach status report stated that as recently as Nov. 6, all county beaches were currently open. However, Carpinteria State Beach, Leadbetter Beach , El Capitan State Beach, Arroyo Quemada and Guadalupe Dunes Beach are each presently in a state of warning because samples indicated higher than normal levels of colliform or enterococcus bacteria.