2004 Gaviota Fire
Montecito’s Fire Danger
How to Prepare for the Next Big Wildfire; Guillaume Doane Leaving; Get Your Own Zen Garden
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Could it happen here? Could the lovely-to-look-at Montecito foothills become a ring of flame similar to what we saw last week blazing above L.A.’s Griffith Park or Catalina’s Avalon? You bet it could and, according county fire officials and Montecito’s own fire department, it is not a matter of if, but when.
And it won’t be the first time. Since 1950, there have been eight major wildfires in Santa Barbara County’s frontcountry and three of them - Romero, Sycamore, and Coyote - started in Montecito! To rock you out of complacency, here are links to the history of each of our county’s past infernos.
Refugio Fire of 1955
Coyote Fire of 1964
Wellman Fire of 1966
Romero Fire of 1971
Sycamore Fire of 1977
Eagle Fire of 1979
Wheeler Fire of 1985
Painted Cave Fire of 1990
And then there was the Gaviota Fire of 2004, which is where these accompanying photos come from.
Now, that you are on fire with fear - they don’t call me Calamity J’Amy for nothing! - what action can a mere mortal take, other than diving into ostrich position and awaiting the barbeque? The answer lies in protection, prevention, and preparation.
By Matt Kettmann
2004 Gaviota Fire
Protection comes from the Montecito Fire District and, on Monday, they went into full awarness mode. “We are officially in full-on, high fire season,” said Chief Kevin Wallace. High fire season status directs public attention to the elevated danger of a possible wildfire by asking citizens to be particularly aware and alert. It steps up abatement notices and the subsequent removal of fire hazards such as weeds, dry brush, or dead trees. It also allows the MFD to create extra patrols, if needed, on particularly hazardous, hot, dry, dangerous days.
The high fire season status is created when dry weather, high resource demand, and threatening conditions merge, and this year the unwelcome trio came together early. Fires across the state and country have already taxed firefighting assets. Montecito, for example, came to mutual aid last week by responding with an engine and four firefighters to the Griffith Park fire.
As well, Montecito is experiencing the third driest year on record, with only seven inches of rain recorded this year, instead of the normal 20-inch average. Vegetation is parched. Wallace said the moisture levels measured in plants in the outback is closer to what would normally be seen in late June. But this is May, and the chaparral is already dense with deadwood.
Prevention comes from citizen action and Chief Wallace is looking for citizen assistance in three areas:
1) Vigilance: “Be vigilant on hot dry days,” he said. “If you see something that gives you even the slightest concern, call the Montecito Fire District. We welcome and appreciate people reporting and that’s why we have a local dispatch working 24-7. Citizens can call 911 or, if they are wavering, they can call our business line at 969-7762.” This year in particular, MFD needs all the watchful eyes it can get. One recent citizen report, for example, has MFD on the lookout for transients camping near hiking trails.
2) Common Sense: “Stay away from the obvious things like welding or working with a metal weed whacker on a hot dry day. Those activities have started a number of fires,” the Chief said.
3) Hazard Abatement: “Make sure foliage is at least 100 feet away from your house and dead tree branches are trimmed. A tree, especially an ornamental or an oak that has been trimmed by an arborist is not nearly as susceptible to fire,” Wallace explained. He also encouraged eucalyptus pruning, as those potential roman candles, sticking up all over Montecito, can be particularly problematic in a fire. “The peeling bark on a eucalyptus carries embers ahead of a fire and proliferates the fire,” Wallace noted.
By Matt Kettmann
2004 Gaviota Fire
Preparation can be learned from MERRAG (Montecito Emergency Response and Recovery Action Group). This is a network of trained volunteers who work and live in the Montecito area. Members are taught to respond to a community disaster during the critical first 72 hours following an event. Since 1987, the mutual “self-help” organization has been serving Montecito’s residents with the guidance and support of the Montecito’s fire, water, and sanitary districts. Last month, they helped out with the Riviera evacuation drill and they meet monthly to train.
The training is free and everyone (including that bored teen on summer break) is welcome. MERRAG meets monthly to learn how to respond and help in recovery. Really, Montage Readers, every neighborhood in Montecito should have a representative in this organization learning how to be skilled in civil defense skills! (And if you join, you’ll know where the hospital is and where they hide the extra water.)
The next training session, for example, will prepare the trainees on how and when MERRAG goes into action. The training will be held on June 7 at the Montecito Fire Station at 575 San Ysidro Road, at 3:15 p.m. For information, dial 969-3537 and ask for Geri Simmons-Ventura. (On April 20, Geri Simmons became Mrs. Geri Ventura.)
So dial up, join up, get trained, get involved - otherwise that barbequed chicken served up this summer, well, it just might be you!
NOT A NEWS-PRESS DEPARTURE: Montage has confirmed the imminent departure of Guillaume Doane, editor of the Montecito Journal. Doane will leave the post on May 31 and, until a permanent replacement is found, former editor Jim Buckley will come out of retirement to join his son, publisher Tim Buckley, to pick up the slack. Doane has worked at the Journal for the past three years since graduating from the University of Kansas. While he was raised in Montecito and attended Montecito Union School, he was born in France and now wants return there to pursue a career as an overseas correspondent.
By J'Amy Brown
Doane says the best part of working in Montecito is the small town character. “I loved the day-to-day integration with people who know and understand the community.” But small town character also had its drawbacks. He explained, “Being the editor of small town paper can be a hazard. If you write something personal, you have to be ready to see that person the next day at Vons. If you write bad personal news about somebody in L.A, it is like throwing a pebble, but here in Montecito the reverberation is stronger. It is like throwing a rock, and it takes some strong judgment on the editor’s part.”