Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fire officials kick off burn season with message of caution


As the summer sun patiently scorched the trees and browned the grasses yesterday at Nojoqui Falls County Park near Solvang, firefighting officials from throughout the county kicked off the beginning of fire season with a barbecue.
Though spirits were high, the sure signs of a long, bitter fire season were lurking everywhere.
“We’re still in a moderate drought for this area,” said County Fire Capt. Eli Iskow. “We could have a devastating, catastrophic fire at any time in this county.”

Iskow said it’s important for residents to remember that fire danger remains high despite a torrential storm in January that dropped nearly 12 inches of rain. He also said to not let the memory of last summer’s Zaca Fire, which charred more than 240,000 acres, fade.
That the Zaca Fire was able to burn for as long as it did -- about 12 weeks -- and not destroy any homes is a sign for Iskow that with the next fire, the county might not be as lucky.
The type of fire Iskow and every other firefighter dreads is one that breaks out on a windy, warm day in the front country, and spreads from home to home with ferocious ease.
Pointing at the dense carpet of green that dots the hills beyond the park, Iskow said that sort of fire, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Painted Cave Fire in 1990, is due.
“It’s ready to explode and it will always be until it burns,” Iskow said of the front country. “Those are the ones that hurt us.”
When such a fire does break out, county officials on hand yesterday made it clear they’re confident in the abilities of local agencies to take it on.
Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray, who took a trip to the front lines of the Zaca Fire, said she was impressed with the firefighting effort.
“It was great to see cooperation instead of people arguing,” she said. “I so admire people who identify a mission and take such good care of us in Santa Barbara County.”
Dane Lobb, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, said he took his post in the county just as the Zaca Fire commenced, and one of his first assignments was to close down Highway 154.
“The firefighters in this county are absolutely outstanding,” he said. “I never saw cooperation better than I did in this county.”
As a token of appreciation for the County Fire Department hand crews that are busily clearing brush, Ted Adams, vice president of the Wildland Residents Association, donated four high-powered weed-whackers and four chainsaws. Iskow said the crew will chew through the new equipment in one year.
The yearly ritual of urging residents living in high fire areas to clear brush around their homes was also in full swing. Iskow said creating “defensible space” (an area about 100-feet in all directions around one’s home), should be done religiously each year. He also said anyone considering remodeling a home should do so with fire resistant materials.
When asked how many people live in fire prone areas in the county, Iskow didn’t hesitate to say pretty much everyone. He said an area like downtown Santa Barbara could burn if the conditions were right, and the Mesa and Riviera are high risk neighborhoods anyway.
He encouraged everyone in the county to visit the County Fire Web site at, where a Wildfire Action Plan is available to download. The plan offers myriad advice on how to protect one’s home and prepare for a wildfire.
Iskow had this advice for anyone living in a high fire risk area: “If you see fire and you live in an area where you can look out the window and see brush, leave. Let us face the risk.”
County Fire Chief John Scherrei said last year at this time, the brush thought it was September and, “The hairs on my arms and neck were standing straight up I was so worried.” This year he said the brush thinks it’s the end of July, which should allow residents and firefighters a little bit more time to prepare for when the first plume of smoke eerily rises into the air.

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