Tea Fire survivor Susan Lord was moving her things into her newly built Conejo Road home last Thursday when she saw something that stopped her in her tracks — smoke. Standing on her porch that day, Lord recounts seeing a small amount of smoke wafting up from the Sycamore Canyon area.
After contacting the Montecito Fire Protection District, which had sent Lord a wind advisory earlier, she learned that the smoke was coming from the city of Santa Barbara’s jurisdiction and that a burn permit had been issued to a resident in the area.
Santa Barbara Fire Department officials said permits are issued to residents for $89 if they have a small pile of brush to burn. If the brush meets the guidelines, under certain weather and seasonal conditions, the person is allowed to burn it themselves. Homeowners are liable for any damage that occurs as a result of the burn. Click here for a list of the city’s burning permit conditions.
Officials maintain that there’s little risk in the practice, but some residents, like Lord, remain concerned.
“I think it’s insane, personally,” she said. “Less than 24 hours later, there were winds close to 70 mph.”
Santa Barbara city fire Inspector Ryan DiGuilio told Noozhawk that there had been a burn permit on West Mountain Drive that afternoon, and that smoke from that burn may have alarmed nearby residents.
“If at any point residents feel like we need to take a look at a concern, we encourage them to give us a call and we will take a look at it,” he said.
Fire Marshal Joe Poire said the city issued nine burn permits last year and has administered eight in the first quarter of 2011. When asked if firefighters will stay to supervise the burns, he said the engine company issuing the permits could go by to check on them.
“It’s a trust but verify thing,” he said. “It’s their discretion to stay.”
Poire said the policy is conservative.
“Things that combine to make a dangerous burn situation are usually not present,” he said.
Every permit is considered on an individual basis, and Poire said the department will refuse a permit if it considers it to be too dangerous.
“We do turn people down,” he said.
Last week, a Montecito Fire Department official invited Lord to witness a prescribed burn to see how it worked. She agreed and watched it firsthand.
“I was like, ‘That’s great when you guys are doing it,’” said Lord, who expressed concern that homeowners would be doing the burns without supervision. She said fire officials assured her they wouldn’t issue permits unless the conditions were right.
But if fire officials think it’s necessary to rid the area of brush, Lord said property owners should pay for firefighters to come out and clear the area. But she said no fire at all would be a better solution.
“I don’t think there should be fires in high fire zones,” she said. “All it takes is one little spark.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.