Pixel Tracker

Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 12:03 pm | Fair 63º


100-Foot Buffer Zones Key to Keeping Wildfires from Your Home

Defensible spaces and maintaining visibility not only limit spread of flames, but make responders’ jobs easier


While massive earthquakes and floods that wash away cabins are rare occurrences in Santa Barbara County, the area is susceptible — year in and year out — to wildfire.

“Several years ago, we used to transition from high fire season to low fire season to no fire season,” county Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said. “But now, we transition basically from high to low.”

        |  Emergency Preparedness 2017  |  Complete Series Index  |

The 1990 Painted Cave Fire in the Santa Barbara foothills killed one woman and destroyed several hundred structures. By the time firefighters finally got control of the 2008 Tea Fire, 210 residences had burned down in Montecito and Santa Barbara.

Last year’s three major county fires — Sherpa, Rey and Canyon — burned a combined 52,600 acres, according to CalFire.

At the highest risk of wildfire are those who live outside urban zones — often in the foothills above and beyond South Coast cities — and are surrounded by brush and other natural fire fuel.

“We call it a high-hazard fire area for a reason,” Zaniboni said.

The first line of defense for those living in such areas is creating a buffer zone around their homes.

“We’re looking for defensible space around a structure,” Zaniboni said. “We want a 100-foot perimeter around the structure.”

While firefighters aren’t looking for people to get rid of their ornamental plants, they recommend clearing brush, grass and leaves that are wild, dry or dead. Low-hanging tree branches, which could pick up fire from the ground and ignite the tree, should be removed as well.

The same goes for tree branches hanging on or right next to a house or other structure, which could transfer the flames to the building.

A helicopter makes a water drop during the 2009 Jesusita Fire above Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
A helicopter makes a water drop during the 2009 Jesusita Fire above Santa Barbara. (Keith Cullom file photo)

Roofs and facades can also be replaced with fire-resistant materials, such as metal and tile for roofs, and brick and stucco for walls.

Keeping piles of wood, propane and butane tanks, and fire pits away from structures and vegetation, as well as clearing dead and dry foliage from roofs and gutters, are also key to keeping fire from houses.

These measures — along with maintaining wide and navigable roads and driveways, and prominently displaying street addresses — are vital to firefighters’ efforts to save residences.

In case of a wildfire evacuation or, worse, the destruction of one’s home, the county Fire Department recommends having three days’ worth of supplies ready to go, including water, food that doesn’t require cooking and pet supplies.

Families should create and practice a fire escape plan, decide on an outdoor meeting place, and make sure important documents, irreplaceable memorabilia, medications, credit cards and cash are all ready to grab in case of evacuation.

Among the indoor safety tips residents in rural or urban areas can follow to limit the risk of fire are:

» Maintaining working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers

» Keeping space heaters 3 feet from drapes, beds and other combustibles

The 1990 Painted Cave Fire burned 5,000 acres, destroyed more than 400 homes and killed a woman who had tried to flee the flames. Click to view larger
The 1990 Painted Cave Fire burned 5,000 acres, destroyed more than 400 homes and killed a woman who had tried to flee the flames. (Keith Cullom file photo)

» Never using the stove to heat a home

» Inspecting and cleaning chimneys annually

» Unplugging appliances that heat up during use when done

» Never overloading outlets, leaving space around electrical equipment and not placing electrical equipment near flammables

» Never leaving food cooking unattended

» Teaching children early about the danger and nature of fire; teaching them stop, drop and roll; and keeping items like lighters out of their reach

Click here for more tips from the county Fire Department.

Upon request, the county Fire Department will conduct a free home fire-safety inspection. To schedule one, call 805.681.5500 or check out the SBCFD website to find the closest fire station.

A defensible-space inspection also can be scheduled with the Santa Barbara Fire Department by calling 805.965.5254.

        |  Emergency Preparedness 2017  |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Santa Barbara County is no stranger to vegetation and wildland fires, as seen in this undated Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County is no stranger to vegetation and wildland fires, as seen in this undated Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.