Santa Barbara city and county firefighters continue to implement prevention practices
Through power outages, vegetation management, defensible space evaluations, forest closures, public workshops and increasingly rapid first responses, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and Santa Barbara City Fire Department have each worked day in and day out to prevent wildland fires and protect local county residents.
There are currently 27 major wildfires in California with more than 18,000 firefighters on the front lines.
Red Flag Warnings remain in place over much of Northern California, according to Cal Fire as of Monday, and since the beginning of 2020, there have been more than 8,100 wildfires that have burned more than 3.7 million acres in the state.
While Santa Barbara County has avoided a large incident yet this year, memories of all-too-recent wildfires in the county linger, such as the 2019 Cave Fire in Los Padres National Forest; the 2018 Holiday Fire; the Jan. 9, 2018, Montecito mudslides that resulted from a high-intensity wildfire, the 2017 Thomas Fire burning 281,000 acres; the 2009 Jesusita Fire that blackened nearly 9,000 acres and the 2008 Tea Fire destroying 210 homes, to name a few.
“We’ve had so many large-scale fires in Santa Barbara County that, yes, we are very lucky so far this year that we have not had any major ones,” said Daniel Bertucelli, PIO for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. “But we’re not out of the woods yet. You never know when or how a fire is going to start.”
Mr. Bertucelli told the News-Press that the county has the past fires to thank for burning fuel in the fields. A lot of the front country fields have burned within the last one to five years, which means the majority of the fields are no longer 30 to 40 years old.
However, even more so to thank, he said, is the city and county fire departments providing “good, effective emergency response to the fires.”
“We have been able to keep these fires small in size, more reasonable and more manageable,” he said.
In addition, both departments have ramped up outreach and awareness tactics.
“Through education and messaging, we’ve been reinforcing to the public that a large portion of the fires that start in California are human-caused, and if we take the appropriate measures from our standpoint, we can help alleviate or eliminate the start of these fires,” Mr. Bertucelli continued. “We’ve always had a very good dialogue with the community here in Santa Barbara County about wildland fires and the need to be responsible to prevent them.”
Amber Anderson is a wildland specialist for the city of Santa Barbara’s Fire Prevention Bureau, and one of the founding members of the Wildland Fire Suppression Assessment District, which “provides a range of services to reduce the severity and damage of wildland fires in the Foothill and Extreme Foothill high fire hazard areas.”
She told the News-Press that most of this year’s work has been paper-driven, because the city reevaluated and updated its Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Changes included expanding the geographic extent of the city’s High Fire Hazard Area and increasing the extent of Vegetation Management Units, along with policies and action items focusing on funding, fire rehabilitation, evacuation, fire protection, vegetation/fuels management and public education.
Ms. Anderson said the previous fires in the county have proven the field-treatment work the bureau did was effective in reducing the spread and stopping both the Tea and Jesusita fires.
Along with field treatment, she added the bureau is also working to ensure all communication plans are updated and valid, and that any dead spots, zones or troublesome radio frequencies are mitigated.
“We still have a few spots where it’s really difficult to get out with radio traffic,” she said. “Those spots are much smaller now.”
However, Ms. Anderson said the most crucial component to the fire prevention efforts as of right now is learning from the wildfires in the northern part of the state, five of which have made the top 20 largest wildfires in California history.
The mutual aid system has sent out teams, engines, overhead single resources, field EMTs, fire line observers, fire behavior analysts, situation unit leaders and many other different positions within the Santa Barbara City Fire Department to these incidents.
“What is beneficial for us is typically Northern California fire season is a little ahead of Southern California,” Ms. Anderson said. “We send so many resources out to those, and that, in and of itself, brings so much knowledge and experience back to our own department.
“So when fire season starts to kick off, we have a lot of really well-oiled machines coming back to our own departments and jurisdictions to put all that knowledge and training and all that practical skill they achieved back into the city.”
In addition to real-time learning, the wildland specialist said there’s been much more outreach to the public, especially the Spanish-speaking population.
She added that awareandprepare.us, which allows for the public to sign up for any type of emergency alert notification, has also been key in raising awareness.
“I think that’s been really big for our community, being able to push alerts and social media word out there,” Ms. Anderson said. “People are becoming more savvy and smart, and really taking ownership to reduce their wildfire hazards.”
For more information about fire prevention efforts, or anything dealing with the county fire department, visit sbcfire.com. For city fire information, visit https://www.santabarbaraca.gov/gov/depts/fire/default.asp.