California may seem like a giant bonfire as of late, but local fire response agencies are keeping their cool by adding over 100 additional firefighters and extra equipment to their regular ranks.
Firefighters from Northern California, Oregon and Arizona, who came to Southern California last week to help control fires in Burbank and Topanga Canyon, are not going home quite yet. The Office of Emergency Services stationed 135 extra firefighters throughout Santa Barbara County because high winds in the upcoming week will increase the probability of wildfires in the area. The additional personnel are stationed in Montecito, San Luis Obispo and the Los Padres National Forest, said Robert Rivelle, battalion chief at Los Padres National Forest.
There is currently a wind advisory in Santa Barbara, Rivelle said. He said the advisory could turn into a red flag warning if the winds increase, which is issued when the fire department decides there is a high probability that weather conditions will drastically increase the potential of a wildfire.
“Another wind event is potentially coming our way, possibly by Monday or Tuesday,” Rivelle said. “We are very concerned about Ventura County and Santa Barbara. We are also very concerned about the front country in Gaviota all the way to the I-5. The winds really get strong in the canyons.”
The California Dept. of Forestry allocated five fire engines to city and county fire stations for use during the upcoming high winds, said John Ahlman, battalion chief at Santa Barbara City Fire Dept. Ahlman said 15 firefighters, a battalion chief and five engines also came from San Luis Obispo to help control local coastal fires.
“We really appreciated the extra help,” Ahlman said. “They increased our strength.”
Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. spokesman Capt. Keith Cullom said the additional personnel and equipment has already helped local fire response. He said strike teams placed in Santa Barbara assisted local firefighters when brushfires broke out in the county on Oct. 4-5.
Cullom said Santa Barbara County is not responsible for the expense of the additional crews because the firefighters receive the same salary from the state whether they are fighting fires in their hometowns or aiding Santa Barbara’s firefighters. He said any additional costs, such as travel expenses, are outweighed by the benefits of having extra personnel.
“I’m not sure of the additional costs,” Cullom said. “The cost is minor when you look at the alternative. The alternative is that firefighters are not there to respond.”
The Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. often receives additional workers during the fire season, Cullom said. He said the extra staff is helpful because the department usually gets by with only minimal employees and extra help is only necessary when there is an increased risk of wildfires in the area.
“Don’t misinterpret the big picture, the firefighters are here because of the predicted weather,” Cullom said.
Rivelle said locals need to exercise caution when dealing with fire, especially during the expected winds.
“Be extra careful now, whether you go to city parks or the forest,” Rivelle said. “Be extremely careful with fire. Report anything you see immediately.”