Fire chiefs from across Santa Barbara County delivered the sobering message Wednesday that fuel conditions are closer to the levels that normally occur in late June or early July. “We’re two months ahead of schedule,” noted Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Michael Dyer. “The lack of rain has had a serious effect on live fuel moisture throughout the county, and following below-average rainfall last year, we could be in for a rough summer.”
“We want to stress that we are prepared,” added CalFire Chief Robert Lewin. “We have more resources available than ever before, far more than at any time this early in the year.” High fire season officially began on April 25 in Santa Barbara County. Because of this declaration, all burn permits issued for hazard reduction have been suspended, and the number of resources available to local fire departments (for example, engines, dozers, crews, helicopters, etc.) has been increased.
Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Pat McElroy also added that California is always in fire season and highlighted the value of being prepared year-round. “We are ready to go at any minute,” McElroy said. “Every day — 365 days a year — we are in constant contact with other fire agencies in the county so we know what resources are available.”
“We are as prepared as we can be,” Lewin emphasized. “We are at peak staffing. Now we are asking the community to get prepared as well.” This includes clearing fuels from around homes, working with fire officials to prepare emergency plans, and learning how to “harden one’s home.”
Lompoc Fire Chief Kurt Latipow emphasized the need for every homeowner in high-fire areas to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. In past years, there has been discussion of the concept of “sheltering in place,” but local fire chiefs no longer believe it is a good idea. “Most of the deaths in Southern California wildfires occur during the evacuation phase,” Latipow explained. Often, residents wait too long to decide to evacuate or take too long to gather family possessions before leaving, he said.
“If you have the feeling like maybe you shouldn’t be there,” Santa Maria Fire Chief Dan Orr chipped in, “then it is probably time to go.” Latipow shared information about the “Ready, Set, Go!” program that all of the county firefighting agencies have adopted. “If there is one message we need to stress, it is to be as prepared as possible and to get out early,” Chief Orr said.
Ready, Set, Go! emphasizes three basic concepts:
Ready — Take personal responsibility and prepare long before the threat of a wildland fire. Create defensible space by clearing brush away from your home. Use fire-resistant landscaping, and harden your home with fire-safe construction measures. Assemble emergency supplies and belongings in a safe place. Plan escape routes and make sure all those residing within the home know the plan of action.
Set — Practice situational awareness. Pack your emergency items. Stay aware of the latest news and information on the fire from local media, your local fire department, and public safety.
Go! — Act early. Follow your personal wildland fire action plan. Doing so will not only support your safety but will allow firefighters to best maneuver resources to combat the fire.