The Southern California wildfires that began one week ago are becoming contained one by one, as the cooler weather and lower winds are helping firefighters to battle the blazes.
Of the 20-plus fires that were ravaging the region and driving people out of their homes last week, only seven are still burning. Since the Sedgwick Fire in the Santa Ynez Valley was contained this past Monday, 137 firefighters from the Santa Barbara area were deployed to help fight fires in other parts of Southern California.
Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. spokesman Eli Iskow said weather conditions in the state have improved since the fires began last week, allowing personnel to gain the upper hand on blazes from Los Angeles County to San Diego County.
“Improving weather conditions have allowed firefighters to make good progress on containment percentages on several of the larger fires,” Iskow said. “And there was no significant growth to any of the fires that our crews are assigned to.”
All together, the fires so far have burned over 500,000 acres in the Southern California region, and destroyed 2,300 buildings. Twelve deaths and 78 injuries are attributed to the wildfires.
Many UCSB students and their families are affected by the wildfires. Fourth-year psychology major Lani Riedler – a native of Olivenhain in San Diego County – said her family had to evacuate their house for two days and help other family members leave their homes.
“My parents were really distraught about the brand-new home they had just built,” Riedler said.
Although the fire came within two miles of her front door, Riedler said it did not harm her home.
“The only reason the fire never reached our house is because the wind changed direction,” she said. “But my family is back in the house. The only thing wrong with the house is that our pool is black with ashes.”
As a result of the massive fire activity in the state, Iskow said the Santa Barbara Fire Dept. is currently at a “drawdown,” which means that the agency has committed as many of its personnel as possible to fires outside the county and cannot spare any more employees without impacting the department’s ability to respond to emergencies within the county.
“This number of local firefighters being committed to assignments outside of our county is unprecedented,” Iskow said. “Even with this number of firefighters and engines being out of our area, all of our local fire department’s fire stations remain fully staffed with personnel and equipment, operating at 100 percent capacity and responding to all fire, medical and related emergencies as normal.”
In addition, the federal disaster declaration President George W. Bush signed last Wednesday will provide fire victims with extra money and resources. According to a press release from SurfMedia Communications – the agency that represents the American Red Cross – chapters across the state are accepting financial donations.
Last week, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Dept. and the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District issued an air quality advisory for residents. The advisory cautioned residents to minimize time outdoors and avoid heavy exertion. As of Friday, the air quality advisory was lifted due to improved weather conditions. According to a press release from the Public Health Dept., smoke and ash are still in the air, but the levels have reduced greatly since last Monday and Tuesday.
Los Padres National Forest spokesman Joe Pasinato said in a press release that the forest, along with Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County, remains closed indefinitely due to fire danger.