Santa Barbara County Firefighters say there is a new danger in our community and it isn’t just the drought; It’s complacency.
Some locals admit they’re tired of hearing messages about brush clearing and defensible space, but fire officials say those are the key things that will help save your home during a wildfire.
Martha Bull knows that part of the equation all too well.
The Santa Barbara resident walked a NewsChannel 3 crew around the outside of her rebuilt home. She and her family lost the original house during the Jesusita fire of 2009.
“We were ready,” said Bull. “We did everything we were supposed to do.”
Brush was cleared hundreds of feet away from the house, the right type of landscaping was put in and the Bulls had what firefighters call a “hardened home” with a cement-filled tile roof.
“These homes were considered by the fire department to be the perfect example of how to be prepared in case of a fire,” said Bull.
Yet, the unthinkable happened.
It was just before midnight on the third day of the fire. Flames chewed through the canyon behind the Bull’s La Vista Road home and whipped up over their street.
“The house survived the fire,” said Bull. “It literally went over and wasn’t until 20 minutes later they (firefighters) discovered it was burning from the inside out.”
The most vulnerable part of the house turned out to be a basement vent, a prime target for blowing embers. Bull takes us inside.
“Shot in here and then burned the floor inside the house .. Nothing outside was damaged. It just literally imploded.”
Each wildfire brings a new chapter of devastation and a new learning curve when it comes to firefighting technology.
Bull shows us the entrance to the basement and knocks on the exterior door. “It’s metal .. totally up to code.”
The house sits on the same footprint as the original home, except there is one major change; A screen of metal honeycomb inside the vent.
“In the event of a fire when it gets really hot, this will literally melt together and seal the vent,” said Bull.
She knows there are more fires to come. After all, our mountains are tinder-dry and we’re now into our fourth year of the drought.
“Fuels are stressed,” said David Sadecki, Santa Barbara County Fire Captain.
Tack on November’s notorious winds and you have two more elements of danger, another layer of concern.
“Our live fuel moisture levels are at 56 percent, 60 is considered critical,” said Sadecki. “We always tell people if you have dead trees, dead vegetation in your trees, cut that all out.”
Sadecki said the number one thing to help protect your home from fire is that 100 to 300 feet of defensible space.
“We always tell people don’t get complacent,” said Sadecki. “We haven’t had a major fire since 2009. People have been doing a good job maintaining defensible space. Keep doing that.”
That’s the one key reason homes on Spyglass Ridge above Mission Canyon survived the Jesusita Fire. Sadecki said without that open space between homes and the wildland, houses won’t stand a chance.
“Until we have two inches of rain, it’s still fire season,” said Sadecki. “Still high fire season. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
He urges local residents to clean out the gutters, clear under the decks, make sure addresses are visible and do what you can to make your home safe.
Bull has one more piece of advice: “Get ready to take video of everything in your home and put in a safe deposit box or someplace away from the house. That would make your life so much simpler .. It’s so easy to look through that video and account for with the insurance.”
It took the Bull family five years to account for all of their losses. Bull said the holidays are the hardest.
“You go back where you had something before, open drawers, ‘Oh yeah, it’s not there anymore.'”
Both Bull and Sadecki warn people not to be fooled by the calendar.
“We’ve got a grey sky and people think, ‘Oh gosh, fire danger is gone,'” I said to Bull. “It’s not,” she replied. “November is notorious for such heavy high winds and with the drought, there’s no doubt we could possibly get another fire. People should not get complacent.”