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Letter to the Editor: Be Prepared for Fire

The tragedies caused by the many fires in Southern California encourage us all to think about wildfires. Here are some of Santa Barbara County’s thoughts:

We had our own fire, the Sedgewick Fire on Oct. 21, that started when the wind blew down some power lines. Fortunately, our county Fire Department had extra crews on duty and a helicopter standing by. Our Fire Department was fighting the fire within minutes, and what could have been a very serious incident was contained to 750 acres with no real damage. Of course, we were lucky that the winds were not worse than a mild breeze, but also, we were ready and acted immediately and effectively.

On the same day, the county initiated our Office of Emergency Services, a 24-hour operation ready to cope with the possibility of evacuations that could have been caused by the Sedgewick Fire or problems caused by evacuations and demands for personnel from the Southern California fires. Once again, we were prepared.

Our county recently experienced the enormous Zaca Fire. That was bad enough, but it never became the potential for disaster that might have occurred. The current Southern California fires are a clear example of the horrible potential that might have come about if the Zaca Fire had breeched the lines and come over the hills into residential areas.

That this did not happen is a tribute to federal, state and local firefighters who fought the fire for many weeks. Once again, the examples to the south illustrate the power and disastrous energy of wildfire in this extremely dry season. There were times during the Zaca Fire when the possibility of real disaster was all too real.

Our county Fire Department was front and center in the Zaca Fire and a material part of its containment. For 24 hours a day for a number of weeks, both in sweat, danger and skillful crew operation as well as daily management in three headquarters, San Marcos, Cuyama and Earl Warren, our team was effectively on the job. There were injuries and dangerous moments. Talk to the firefighter who stepped over a rattlesnake as big as his arm or the driver whose truck slid down a side hill. There was a continual need for forceful and diplomatic advocacy for resources, and our department more than held its own in obtaining state and federal help. Recall Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signing the emergency proclamation minutes after the county had declared an emergency.

As a daily observer of this effort, I want to say that we should be proud of our Fire Department and grateful for their skill and sacrificial effort.

And, we also each need to ponder our own circumstances and look to the future. The fire season is not over, and, to some extent, never will be in Santa Barbara County. Have we all maintained the defensible space around our homes and businesses? Have we all provided for emergency supplies in case of disaster? Have we all arranged communications and meeting places for our families? Have we all thought of the preservation of important records? The people of Southern California are being put tot he test, and we learn from the news that some were better prepared than others. Should we all not be prepared?

Brooks Firestone
Chairman, Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors

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