Fall is the season for strong, westerly winds, known locally as Sundowners and across in the southern part of the state as Santa Anas. Whatever you call them, the warm winds, which blow in strong gusts from across the mountains, are known to significantly increase the danger of wildfire after the long summer dry spell. In the face of the strong winds blowing over the South Coast this weekend, most of us will take comfort in the fact that fire authorities are taking extra precautions to prevent out-of-control wildfires.
Extra resources have been apportioned to the Los Padres National Forest and statewide, with federal, state, and county fire agencies increasing staffing and personnel hours. In anticipation of the winds, the Forest Service stationed five extra fire engines between the Ojai and Santa Barbara Ranger Districts, extra handcrews at the Santa Barbara and Mt. Pinos Ranger Districts, and a helicopter and two air tankers to be stationed in Ojai and Santa Maria respectively. “We have already had a long and difficult fire season in Northern California this year,” said Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Randy Moore in a press release, “but as the fire season transitions into Southern California we will remain alert and proactively shift firefighters ahead of Santa Ana winds to improve our ability to stop wildfires before they can grow out of control.”
The Santa Barbara County Fire Department deployed a task force of a few water tenders and a brush engine from Wednesday until Friday morning, and will increase staffing again on Sunday morning. Although the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag for wind conditions, a recent press release stated that the County Fire Chief did not issue a Red Flag for County Fire due to different, more area-specific criteria for that determination.
The Forest Service and County Fire are requesting people living in areas near the fire risk zones to be especially vigilant by watching for arson, avoiding the use of open flames, and maintaining a defensible space around homes-particularly those in the urban-wildland interface.