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Firefighters prepare for brutal Labor Day weekend heat

Montecito Fire
Ryan Fish/KEYT
Fire danger could become a major concern this holiday weekend with record heat possible.

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Firefighters across the South and Central Coasts are preparing for extremely hot conditions in the forecast this weekend--which could drastically increase wildfire risk.

The National Weather Service is forecasting potentially record-breaking temperatures across California beginning Friday, and lasting through at least Monday.

Firefighters from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties provided mutual aid last month in northern California as massive wildfires continue to burn there. One Santa Barbara County Fire strike team remains in the area aiding the firefight.

Cooler weather in the past couple of weeks has helped crews gain the upper hand on the Northern California fires. This weekend's intense heat, however, could create dangerous conditions for additional fires to ignite and spread quickly across the state.

“High temperatures preheat the fuels,” Daniel Bertucelli of Santa Barbara County Fire said Wednesday. “It makes the fuel bed more receptive to fire- and it also allows for that fire to grow more significantly at a more rapid rate.”

Santa Barbara County Fire is adding extra resources this weekend.

“We’re gonna be up-staffing a water tender, as well as our dozers and our hand crews,” Bertucelli said. “Those will be 24-hour up-staffing.”

Like County firefighters, Montecito Fire Battalion Chief and Fire Marshal Aaron Briner says his department is receiving daily updates from the NWS office in Oxnard.

"Right now, we’re not expecting significant winds to come along the heat wave, which is very advantageous,” Briner said. "But we have to prepare for that possibility."

Extra visitors in the area and more people getting outdoors for Labor Day weekend also increase the risk of fires starting.

“The majority of our fires are human-caused,” Bertucelli said. “So whenever you have a weekend where you’re gonna have a significant amount of people out in the outdoors, there’s always that concern.”

An even bigger concern this weekend, perhaps, is that with the influx of people outdoors--and County beaches closed to passive recreation--too many people will not be able to handle the heat.

“The heat-related illnesses, honestly, even more-so than the fires,” Briner said of his biggest worry this weekend. “We need to encourage people to be prepared.”

Emergency medical or search and rescue calls often take firefighters away from being able to respond to a fire.

Bertucelli says during last month's heat wave, several hikers in the Santa Ynez Mountains had to be rescued via a helicopter stationed in the Santa Ynez Valley. That prevented firefighters from being able to respond to fires in the Valley.

At least one dog that went hiking during that period died after suffering heat exhaustion.

“We are asking the public to refrain from going hiking in the front country and back country during a heat wave like this,” Bertucelli said. “And please, if you do decide to go hiking, do not bring your animals. Unless they are ready to go hiking in temperatures like this.”

Santa Barbara- S County / Santa Maria - North County / Weather News

Ryan Fish

Ryan Fish is a reporter, sports anchor and forecaster at KEYT|KCOY|KKFX.

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