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High fire season arrives with extra resources and concerns over tall grasses from winter rains

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. – Green hills from the spring rains have now started to turn brown with grasslands becoming a serious fire concern. Today, high fire season officially begins.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Los Padres National Forest, Office of Emergency Services and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department are announcing their united efforts to respond to fires and to protect lives and property.

That will be an enhanced call out for fire resources at the first sign of a fire. Repositioning of aircraft and upstaffing are key components to the plan.

In the last week, several fires have already broken out in northern Santa Barbara County in areas such as the Cuyama Valley. There was also a fire in the Lompoc/ Vandenberg Space Force base area. Sunday, a six-acre fire was stopped quickly on Figueroa Mountain Road in Los Olivos. While they remain under investigation, Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said, "what we know initially is it appears as if most of the fires we have had,  and we have had a whole week of them, were  a result of people  who were clearing their property, interestingly enough.   Just because you are clearing your property doesn't get you out of trouble." He said sparks with blade hitting rocks are common as ways fires can start.

Fire officials are encouraging those who are traveling to make sure there are no random sparks from their vehicles, something that happens when towing chains are dragging.

They also want the public to follow proper protocols on camp fires. There are designated areas and a permit process if you have camp fires or something other than a picnic table grill site. They also encourage you to have a fire extiguisher nearby.

"As you get out and enjoy the summer and school is out and you get up into the forest please be conscious  of the weather  and be safe with fire when visiting and  recreating in the National Forest," said Los Padres National Forest Fire Chief Mark Gerwe.

The vegetation growth has been significant from the winter rains that extended into early spring. It is primarily a concern where grasslands are near thick brush that could explode into a big fire from a small starting point, especially in high winds.

"People probably  thought summer would never get here but in the blink of an eye summer (weather) is here.  What looked like the hills of Ireland for a number of months has now turned brown and it is  receptive to fire," said Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Chris Mailes who is this year's head of the county fire chief's association.

Often fires cross many lines. Gerwe said, "as the fuels dry here in the valley and as the summer goes on and the heat continues the fuels will dry up  in the forest and more fuels become available and we will be fighting fires not just in the valley but in the forest as well. "

Fires also mean ash is in the air, directly from a local fire or from another area.

The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District says they have many monitoring stations, and will send out alerts when the air is unhealthful.

Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District Executive Director Aeron Arlin Genet said, "we have a really good picture of local air quality conditions and all of this information is available for individuals throughout the area to have a better understanding of the air quality in their neighborhood. "

Those speaking out at Monday's meeting about fire season at the Santa Ynez airport included:

  • County Board of Supervisor - 1st District Das Williams
    County Board of Supervisor - 3rd District Representative Meighan Dietenhofer
  • Santa Barbara County Fire Chief / Fire Warden, Chief Mark Hartwig
  • Santa Barbara County Undersheriff Craig Bonner
  • Santa Barbara County Fire Chiefs Association President / Santa Barbara City Fire
    Chief Chris Mailes
  • Los Padres Forest Fire Chief / Chief 1 Mark Gerwe
  • County of Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Dierector
    Kelly Hubbard
  • Air Pollution Control District Executive Director Aeron Arlin Genet

Article Topic Follows: Fire
High Fire Season
Santa Barbara

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


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