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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 10:47 am | Fair with Haze 65º


Dying Trees Create Additional Fire Hazards for Santa Barbara County

Stress of the ongoing drought, bark beetle infestations are causing trees to die all over California

Trees in Santa Barbara County are showing signs of severe stress due to the continuing drought.
Trees in Santa Barbara County are showing signs of severe stress due to the continuing drought. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Firefighters in Santa Barbara County face an additional challenge this fire season — dead and dying trees.

Rising temperatures, bark beetle infestations and drought have created a tree mortality epidemic across California, according to United States Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen.

More than 40 million trees have died in California’s national forests since 2010. Trees are more vulnerable to insects and disease because extreme drought conditions have plagued them, according to Madsen.

Lack of ground moisture weakens a tree's defense system by decreasing sap production, which is an important function to provide nutrition and protect against invading insects.

“These standing dead trees have created hazards across the forest, campgrounds and surrounding communities. They present a risk to visitors, employees along roads, trails and utility corridors,” Madsen said.

Los Padres National Forest officials plan to reduce hazardous trees in areas along trails and campgrounds across approximately 1.75 million acres of central California’s coast and mountain ranges.

Madsen said there are no anticipated forest closures, however, officials will increase the level of fire restrictions during the summer season based on vegetation or moisture readings in live fuels.

“When the moisture level dips below a certain percentage we will implement higher level restrictions that will limit and prohibit campfires and open-fire cooking in the campgrounds,” he said.

While campground fires are currently permitted, Madsen said visitors are reminded to take into account weather conditions and wind patterns.

Dead and dying plants also pose a significant threat to communities and fire responders if a wildfire occurs in fire hazard severity areas.

Drying and dead vegetation in Santa Barbara County creates a threat for wildfire hazard areas. Click to view larger
Drying and dead vegetation in Santa Barbara County creates a threat for wildfire hazard areas.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

“Hazardous standing trees add more fuel to fires, causing them to burn hotter and faster," Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.

Trees with severe mortality include a variety of pines, native coast live oak and eucalyptus trees.

“What we are finding as the tree starts to brown at the top, is the whole tree could be brown and dead in about 90 days,” said Kerry Kellogg, wildland fire specialist at the Montecito Fire Protection District. 

Dried vegetation north of Highway 192 and areas close to the foothills are high risk fire zones on the South Coast, Kellogg said. 

In California, homeowners are responsible for inspecting and maintaining trees on their property. The cost of a removing tree increases if the tree is allowed to continue to rot and become unstable.

Trees limbs in contact with overhead power lines pose a serious hazard and householders are urged to call Southern California Edison to have them removed, Kellogg said. 

After June 1, the Montecito Fire Protection District staff will start the process of individual property evaluation of dead trees.

The staff plans to inspect vegetation based on any dead tree that is a potential fire threat to the area or blocks the public and first responders.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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.

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