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SB City Council to declare State of Emergency in fire prone areas, asks staff to find alternative camping locations for unhoused

Loma Alta Fire Scar
Scott Sheahen / KEYT

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- The Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously to declare a State of Emergency in fire prone areas on June 8. They will ask city staff to come back in two weeks with several locations that could be used for a sanctioned homeless campsite through September.

Council member Eric Friedman said, "In light of the Loma Fire and other recent fires, there is a State of Emergency in our city. We are coming into the hot weather season, and we want to be able to take action and reduce the level of threats from the encampments."

Friedman said the problem is along the Highway 101 corridor and high brush areas. If the city can find other places such a parking lots for people without shelter to go during the hot summer months, the city will be able to remove the camps that pose the most fire risk.

"We are looking at city property, in particular some parking lots, in addition we are looking at [the ] airport or other facilities where we might be able to provide some type of sheltering space."

Other council members suggested the old Sears, and Staples lots and the Earl Warren Showgrounds.

The Mayor said the pilot program would get people out of high fire areas and provide a path to services that would cost about a $1 million. She said they will have to make some tough budget decisions in June.

The special meeting was called following the worst fire linked to homelessness in recent history.

The Loma Fire damaged several homes as it raced up TV Hill last Thursday night.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced Tuesday that charges have been filed following the fire.

She said Victor Angel Hernandez, 23, of Santa Barbara pleaded not guilty to all counts related to the Loma Fire that burned more than 7 acres.

Another small fire occurred near Arrellaga St. in Santa Barbara late Sunday night.

Fire Marshall Joe Poire said not all of fires related to homelessness are intentionally set. He said there were 18 fires related to homelessness in the first 23 days of May.

He said most are caused by cooking and warming. Poire said Methamphetamine is a common ignition source.

Fire Chief Chris Mailes said crews were already out responding to fires linked to encampments when the Loma Fire began.

About 22 engines responded thanks to mutual aid from outside agencies.

There has been a rise in encampments due to the economic impacts of COVID-19, but due to COVID first responders are limited in what can be do about them. Poire said as COVID restrictions lift that will change.

The council will not meet next week due to the Memorial Day holiday.

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County

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Tracy Lehr

Tracy Lehr is a reporter and the weekend anchor for News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Tracy, click here


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