Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Heat adds new dimension to Gap Fire


Firefighters attacking flames in the hills above Goleta got their first taste of a heat wave scorching California on Tuesday as temperatures in upper elevations spiked into the high 90s.
Despite cool marine air maintaining comfortable temperatures along coastal areas, officials said fire crews in higher elevations and along ridges will be experiencing temperatures nudging upwards of 100 degrees in the coming days.

“Once you get above 2,000 feet, the temperature is going to go up quite quickly,” said Eric Boldt, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
“It’s going to be pretty dramatic between Santa Barbara itself and up there on the hillside,” he added.
With an excessive heat warning in place for mountains in Santa Barbara County, as well as many other regions throughout the state, fire officials said they are keeping a close eye on firefighters.
“That’s the No. 1 priority, the safety of our guys,” County Fire Capt. Eli Iskow said.
He said although weather differs depending on terrain, crews reported temperatures close to 100 degrees near the top of the ridgeline on Tuesday. No heat exhaustion cases have been reported thus far.
“These are tough folks,” Capt. Iskow said. “They hang tight, they hang hard — hang until they drop, really.”
Working long hours, carrying heavy hardware and cutting line through extreme terrain is no easy task, he said, and every captain and crew boss is taking no chances with the safety of their men.
“We’re doing good,” Capt. Iskow said. “The heat exhaustion could be an issue if we had many consecutive days of high heat.”
A high pressure system centered over Northern California is pulling warm weather into the state, Boldt said, and is expected to remain anchored until early Friday. Once it moves out to the east, marine air should start cooling down temperatures.
Cindy Chojnacky, a district ranger with the Los Padres National Forest, said firefighters are being supplied with plenty of food and water as the heat wave hits, but donations from the community are always welcome at Dos Pueblos High School, where crews are stationed.
“Coffee is always appreciated, especially good coffee,” she said.
Relative humidity levels in the area of the Gap Fire are expected to stay low, officials said, but have yet to reach a critical level.
Boldt said a Red Flag Warning ¬— a notice issued by the National Weather Service cautioning that wildland fire conditions are increasingly dangerous — is not likely.
“We’re not even considering it at this point,” he said. “It’s just warm and dry.”
Nonetheless, Capt. Iskow said fire officials never take weather out of the equation and have been keeping a close eye on temperatures, humidity levels and winds.
“Weather is an issue every day,” he said.
Monsoonal moisture expected to materialize this week started showing itself in the form of clouds rising above the mountain ranges. Weather officials said the moisture should not cause any significant problems.
“If it was deeper moisture, we might see some thunderstorm activity, but right now we’re not really expecting that,” Boldt said.
Lightening strikes might be possible along mountain ranges in Los Angeles County, he added, but puffy clouds should be the main local effect.
“It does cause a little more instability up there,” Boldt added. “It kind of acts as a chimney, so the fire may burn a little more intense because it’s more unstable above it.”
With higher temperatures impacting many regions of the state, officials are also urging residents in areas affected by the heat wave to look out for themselves and their pets.
“Heat causes about 400 deaths per year in the United States, and almost all of these deaths are preventable,” Dr. Elliot Shulman, the county’s public health director, said in a news release. “We want community members to take the steps to avoid heat-related health problems.”
Authorities offered tips such as staying indoors, drinking plenty of non-alcoholic liquids, reducing strenuous activities and taking cool showers or baths. Health officials also reminded residents to watch out for the health of their pets.
“If the heat is uncomfortable to you, you can guarantee your animals are uncomfortable as well,” Jan Glick, director of animal services for the county, said in a prepared statement.
Pets should never be left in a vehicle, even with the windows cracked, she warned, as temperatures inside a car can rise quickly and cause pets to become overheated and possibly die.
Authorities urged residents to contact the Santa Barbara Animal Services Shelter at 681-5285 or Santa Barbara City Animal Control at 963-1513 if they spot an animal in distress.

No comments: