A strike team composed of engines from the Montecito, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Santa Barbara City and Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Departments has been fighting the Beckwourth Complex Wildfire in northeast California this week, helping to squelch the flames that burned more than 105,000 acres as of Saturday.
The Beckwourth Complex Fire formed from two fires – the Dotta fire and the Sugar fire – both of which began burning more than two weeks ago as a result of lightning strikes.
The Beckwourth Fire has caused evacuation orders for some residents in Lassen, Plumas and Washoe counties. As of Saturday, the fire was about 70% contained, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The local strike team of firefighters from Santa Barbara County was assigned to the fire last Sunday, and has worked upwards of 12 hour days to fight the flames. According to Montecito Fire Captain Jordan Zeitsoff, increased afternoon winds combined with temperatures over 100 degrees has caused the fire to jump containment lines multiple times.
“Conditions were fairly mellow when we first arrived, but when we were ordered on Sunday, the fire completely blew up and crossed containment lines,” Capt. Zeitsoff said in a statement to the News-Press.
Since the fire started, it’s been fueled by very dry conditions. According to Capt. Zeitsoff, if an ember lands on a receptive fuel bed, the probability of ignition is 100%.
“Even though conditions are mellow in the morning, the fire behavior analysts and incident meteorologists warned us when we first arrived that conditions were tending to pick up each afternoon,” Capt. Zeitsoff said. “We’ve seen that pretty much every day we’ve been here.”
During their time fighting the Beckwourth Fire, the crew has primarily been patrolling the area for hot spots and contributing structure defense.
Earlier this week, the team was assigned to complete structure defense around a large ranch. Though fire burned all around the ranch, none of the structures were lost, according to Capt. Zeitsoff.
The crew was initially assigned to the fire for 14 days, though it remains uncertain when the team will return home. If needed, Capt. Zeitsoff said the crew will stay as long as they are needed.
Thus far, the captain said the crew remains in high spirits going into the latter half of the assignment.
“Everybody is doing great,” Capt. Zeitsoff said. “When we drive out the station, I always say, ‘As long as we keep good attitudes, we’ll have a good time, no matter what the conditions are.’ We’ve had nothing but good attitudes.”
Looking ahead, the captain is expecting a long fire season across the state. For residents in the Central Coast, the Montecito Fire Department is recommending that community members develop a fire plan to be prepared for incidents before they come.
“I feel like this fire season is going to be a marathon” Capt. Zeitsoff said. “As firefighters, we all need to prepare ourselves for that when we’re out on fires and at the station. It’s going to be a hard push for everybody, not just our agency but all agencies.”
He added, “Once the fire is in your backyard, it’s too late. People need to be aware of what’s going on in other states and our state and prepare themselves for similar situations in our area.”
With more wildfires expected to pop up across the state this fire season, Christina Favuzzi, the public information officer for the Montecito Fire Department, told the News-Press that Montecito Fire will be ready to assist fire departments in other parts of the state.
“As long as we are able to fully staff our stations at home and still have the available bodies to send out of county to major incidents, we will absolutely answer the call to help our communities across California,” Ms. Favuzzi said.
She added, “After going through the Thomas Fire and debris flow and, of course, all of the many incidents that have happened on the South Coast, we really value mutual aid and being there for other communities when they need help.”