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Santa Barbara Fire, Police Officials Talk Drought, Response Calls and Staffing Numbers

Fire Chief Pat McElroy expects SBFD to remain on high alert for wildfires while Police Chief Lori Luhnow reports on 8 new officers scheduled to graduate from academy

New Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow, second from left, outlines department staffing and Old Spanish Days law enforcement needs during the recent Fire & Police Commission meeting.
New Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow, second from left, outlines department staffing and Old Spanish Days law enforcement needs during the recent Fire & Police Commission meeting.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara Fire Department will remain on high alert as a significant wildland fire potential is forecast through the rest of 2016, Fire Chief Pat McElroy told the Fire & Police Commission at its monthly meeting Thursday.

In his remarks, McElroy addressed the drought, dying vegetation and an aggressive bark beetle infestation that has destroyed more than 40 million trees in California in the last five years.

“It’s going to be a generational problem,” he said. “It’s going to alter the landscape and this is going to be a fire problem. It’s not something that can just be fixed right away. It will take years.”

Southern California continues to have a high risk of fire as the state’s drought stretches into its fifth year, McElroy said.

Fire season in the West is at its peak in the summer season of July and August. Long-term drought conditions are expected to remain in place, and autumn weather conditions bring an increase in offshore winds that often spark fire activity, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

“If there isn’t significant rain, we will stay in high fire through the end of the year,” McElroy said. “There’s a lot of drought stress in trees.”

He said dead trees falling pose a safety risk to campers and hikers in Los Padres National Forest and around Santa Barbara County. Until the danger is contained by cutting down the hazardous trees, some areas remain closed.

McElroy also gave an update on SBFD incidents, with a total of 801 responses between June 23 and July 27.

Among those incidents were 15 fires, 488 medical and rescue calls, 32 hazardous conditions and 46 false alarms, he said.

“Our medical and rescue incidents remain our highest priority,” he said.

New Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow gave the commission an update on SBPD staffing, noting the current number includes 212 total employees, with 143 sworn police officers and 69 civilian personnel.

Eight additional officers are completing their 24-week academy training in Ventura to prepare themselves for law enforcement, she said. The group is to graduate Oct. 7.

Luhnow gave an overview of recent police dispatch calls with June 2016 logging 4,002 of them, and a five-year average of 3,209 calls.

“Our call volume for patrol in 2016 remains at a historic level,” she said. “The good thing is we are managing the calls. The rates of response are still where it was in past years.”

With Old Spanish Days Fiesta approaching, Aug. 3-7, and events planned throughout the weekend, SBPD will work with partnering allies to monitor the large expected crowds.

“We have a busy week that is requiring our entire staff to be assigned to manage the event,” Luhnow said.

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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