SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The dry and explosive grass, brush, and trees in the drought-dry Los Padres National Forest are a high risk this time of year, and the ban on fireworks in place year-round is going to be strongly enforced.
The dangers are apparent.
A spark of any kind, from a hand-held firework to an aerial shot, could hit areas ripe for a fire.
The Los Padres National Forest Fire Chief Jim Harris is strongly urging the public to keep all fireworks out of the forest and he will have special patrols on alert.
Santa Barbara County Fire Information Officer Mike Eliason says there will be a collaboration with all agencies to stop reckless use of fireworks. Penalties can be severe, starting with simple possession.
"One spark can start an enormous fire that we don't want to have to happen," Eliason said.
Often those with fireworks bought at stands to help non-profits with their fundraising believe they can be used anywhere. The county says those fireworks have to stay in the city where they are purchased.
"The safe and sane you buy in Santa Maria or Lompoc or Fillmore – or the more illegal ones you get south of the border – those can do a lot of damage quickly they can burn houses, burn trees, they can blow a finger off," said Eliason.
He says this is a critical time to be fire safe. "Especially after an extended period of drought, it doesn't take a lot to get this vegetation going."
Fire investigators say 95% of all fires are human-caused.
"A lot of the fires start with careless activities, a lot are innocent in nature as far as a dumb act someone not thinking about fire safety," said Harris. He also said campfires in the wrong places and chains dragging from vehicles can also lead to sparks and embers that start a larger fire.
In some mountain communities like the San Marcos Trout Club, they have a volunteer citizen fire department. The Wildland Residents Association also coordinates fire information, alerts, community training, and has a low power radio station.
"You come to 4th of July weekend and you say oh God," said Trout Club resident Laurie Lauer.
She says they just hope, "people realize the extreme danger and the moisture level is null and the winds are high and it is a bad idea to have a fire up here."
It is common for the residents to talk to those in the turnouts who are smoking or involved in dangerous behavior. That's the first approach.
If that doesn't work the Sheriff's department is called.
U.S.Forest Service advisory:
Los Padres National Forest officials are reminding Fourth of July visitors that the possession or use of fireworks—including the “safe and sane” variety—is always prohibited in the Forest. This year-round prohibition will be strictly enforced throughout the holiday weekend.
A violation of the law could result in a $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail. In addition, anyone causing a wildfire is potentially liable for the full cost of suppressing the fire.
The Forest asks that all visitors take the appropriate precautions to prevent accidental wildfires:
· Under current fire restrictions, campfires are only permitted in developed campgrounds and must always be attended by a responsible person.
· Persons with a valid California Campfire Permit can use portable stoves and lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel outside of designated Campfire Use Sites. California Campfire Permits are available for free download from the Ready For Wildfire website. You must clear all flammable material for 10 feet in all directions from your camp stove, have a shovel and water available nearby, and ensure that a responsible person always attends the stove when it is in use.
- Smoking is prohibited except within an enclosed vehicle, building, or developed campground.
· Internal or external combustion engines require properly installed, functional spark arresters. This requirement is in effect year-round.
· Avoid parking vehicles on grass, as hot engines can ignite dry vegetation.
· Contact the Ranger Station nearest your destination for the latest conditions.
Under a current Forest Order, campfires are prohibited outside of developed campgrounds and can result in a fine of $5,000 and/or six months in jail. Due to the alarming rise in illegal campfires associated with dispersed camping across national forests in California, visitors are encouraged to report any signs of dispersed campfires to the nearest Forest Service Officer or Ranger Station.
To report a fire or other emergency, call 911.