The Fire Chiefs Association of Santa Barbara County held a media day Wednesday to spark awareness that fire season officially has begun, but officials pointed out that because of recent trends — including last year’s Jesusita Fire — fire season now runs all year.
The fact that Wednesday’s event was held in Skofield Park, high in Santa Barbara’s foothills — in the midst of where the 2008 Tea Fire and 2009 Jesusita Fire raged — served as a poignant reminder of the area’s high fire danger. As firefighters, elected officials and media representatives basked in the sunshine bathing the park, the wind began to pick up — much like it has during countless conflagrations across the state.
The main message brought by the association’s various fire leaders was that education prepares people more than anything else.
U.S. Forest Service regional forester Randy Moore, who is also chairman of the California Fire Alliance, said that programs such as Ready! Set! Go! — which offers preparedness workshops for Santa Barbara County’s mountain residents — really help people get ready.
“If you’re preparing during a fire, it’s too late,” he said, expressing thanks to State Farm Insurance for its $50,000 donation to help further education efforts.
One effort city fire officials said has been particularly effective is the Wildland Fire Suppression Benefit Assessment District, which helps foothill and extreme foothill residents with defensible space maintenance, road clearing and — perhaps most importantly — brush disposal services.
City fire service specialist Amber Anderson, who has participated in a number of assessments, said the department expects to chip 1,000 tons of cleared brush for homeowners by the time summer begins. The program has performed more than 250 inspections and cleared about 14 miles of the city’s roads during the past two years.
Although homeowners in high fire risk areas can be eligible to receive assessments by the district, there are strict requirements set by state guidelines. Approved statewide by voters in 2006, Proposition 218 covers homeowners in areas included by the district, with money collected by property taxes.
— Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.