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Defensible space proves vital in efforts to save homes in fires

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The requirement for property owners to have a defensible space in fire zones between the brush and their structures has proven to be vital when it comes to stopping fires and avoiding losses.

It was clear in the recent Bridge Fire.

That fire broke out in dry grass in early June near the "bridge to nowhere" at the base of San Marcos Pass.

It burned eight acres, but it came dangerously close to homes in the area, where it died out as it was being attacked by aircraft dropping water and fire retardant along with multiple fire crews cutting lines and using water hoses on the ground.

Many properties had defensible space that allowed firefighters to get between the structures and the flames and keep the embers from starting houses on fire.

Inspections are underway in the county to ensure property owners comply with the required vegetation clearing.

Before the full scale  firefighting response can arrive at a spreading wildfire your best defense is what you have done before the flames appear.

Santa Barbara County Fire Captain Scott Safechuck said at the Bridge fire location Thursday, "when I look at this burn scar here  I can see where the wind had its affect on pushing the fire downhill."

Fire departments say property owners who clear back brush and flammables have a better chance of coming out of a spreading fire without losing their homes.

Safechuck said, "reducing that fuel horizontally and vertically allows us to gain some advantage on the fire and  slow it down. Topography has a lot to do with it, and the weather, the wind, the drought,  the lack of rain. It all plays an influence on how fast the fire can move."

Where you can make a mistake is trying to stay too long, thinking you can take on a fire with a garden hose,  or misjudging the fire's speed, especially in strong winds.

 Safechuck says, "it's like a million match sticks that are out there that can just ignite as the wind is pushing it.  The embers can travel  up to a half mile so you may not be in the immediate threat of the fire or you may not feel that but those embers that are traveling can lodge in to decks or crevasses and cause a structure fire."

Ready, Set, Go Wildfire Action Plan brochures have been sent out to thousands of property owners in Santa Sarbara Sounty and in it tis he diagram for defensible space around homes.     

Safechuck says, "when I look at that vegetation here that stuff can still burn and put off some significant heat and flame lengths but it doesn't have much of of an area to continue burn to."

He warns,  "any kind of continuity of fuel or continuous fuel beds" can be dangerous in a spreading fire.
That allows the fire to go from lighter fuels into,  for example,  the canopy of the trees.
Safechuck also says, if there is a structure fire it usually takes three engines, a truck company and a management team.

He says the public needs to be vigilant year-round with a reminder that the massive Thomas fire in 2017 was in December.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about John, click here.


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