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As Fires Continue to Menace the State, Santa Barbara-Area Crews Continue to Deploy

Fighting Monterey County’s Soberanes Fire in particular has required the help of fire crews from Santa Barbara, Vandenberg, Lompoc, Carpinteria and Montecito

The Santa Barbara County crew of Engine 313 works the Soberanes Fire near Carmel.
The Santa Barbara County crew of Engine 313 works the Soberanes Fire near Carmel.  (Matt McGowan / Santa Barbara County Fire photo)

As ferocious blazes continue to slam California during high fire season, Santa Barbara County fire departments are continuing to aid their counterparts throughout the state with engines and personnel.

“Everybody’s engaged,” Santa Barbara city Fire Department Chief Pat McElroy told Noozhawk.

The biggest blaze local resources are fighting is Monterey County’s Soberanes Fire, which has charred over 60,000 acres near Big Sur over the past two and a half weeks.

A five-engine strike team from the County Fire Department, Lompoc and Vandenberg Air Force Base, along with a Santa Barbara city battalion chief, completed on Sunday a 14-day outing at the fire, McElroy said.

The engines will remain on duty, he added, but new local personnel will be taking the place of the local firefighters already up there.

The Soberanes Fire, started by an illegal campfire, is only 45-percent contained as of Monday and has a force of over 5,000 personnel working to put it out.

Fifty-seven residences have been destroyed.

County Fire Department Capt. Dave Zaniboni told Noozhawk that an all-county strike team was also relieved over the weekend by fresh firefighters after the crew spent two weeks at the Soberanes Fire.

A mixed strike team with Vandenberg, Lompoc, Montecito, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara city firefighters are helping out with the 4,500-acre Pilot Fire near San Bernardino, Zaniboni said, which was 5 percent contained on Monday and had destroyed four residences.

Yet another strike team made up of Santa Barbara city, Carpinteria and Los Angeles crews in Type 3 engines — specialized for wildland fires — has been fighting the Goose Fire, east of Fresno, McElroy said.

That blaze, which has burned over 2,200 acres and nine structures, is 96 percent contained as of Monday.

Teams from around the county have also assisted in the Sand Fire, which is nearly 100 percent contained after harassing Santa Clarita and eating up over 41,000 acres in Los Angeles County.

Local firefighters are only about a month removed from a wildfire scare in their own backyard — the Sherpa Fire, which scorched a relatively small 7,500 acres of Gaviota coast and destroyed one structure.

Of serious concern to firefighting crews trying to focus on the blazes, McElroy told Noozhawk, are the seas of dead trees, especially in the Sierra Nevada, which pose a “generational” problem for firefighters.

Climate change, bark beetle infestations and drought have created a tree-mortality epidemic across the state, affecting literally tens of millions of trees, he said.

Some camp sites in the Los Padres National Forest saw temporary closures recently due to the risk of dead trees toppling over.

Firefighters will be addressing the issue for 20 to 30 years to come, McElroy said.

“The scope of the problem is unbelievable — it’s massive,” he said.

Increasingly worse fire seasons have strained fire department budgets across the state, he added, and more and more of the Forest Service’s budget has gone toward fire management.

And now the tree problem has only made things worse, he said.

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.

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