Santa Barbara County has faced its fair share of wildfires over the past few years, most recently with the Jesusita blaze, but now notice is being taken on the national level. Rep. Lois Capps presented Santa Barbara’s Wildland Residents Association (WRA) with a check for $267,500 from the United States Forest Service for the group’s efforts to ensure the safety of the county’s residents who are most at risk during wildfires.
Capps was joined by community leaders, members of the WRA, and county firefighters at the residence of Michael Byrne, whose home hung on the cusp of the Jesusita fires’ destruction. From Byrne’s deck, the remnants of destroyed brush were clearly seen a mere few hundred feet away. The home is part of the Painted Cave neighborhood, which was narrowly saved from Jesusita as a result of WRA’s careful planning. Volunteers from the association reopened a neglected road near the Painted Cave community, which has been credited as key to saving the community from the blaze. In addition to its work on roads in this area, the WRA also administers the San Marcos Pass Volunteer Fire Department and San Marcos Pass Emergency Radio Station.
Capps noted that there has been a definite increase in the rate of occurrence and the predictability of county wildfires. “What used to be called a fire season has morphed,” she said. “Fire season is now year-round.”
The increase in funding to the WRA will go toward more equipment and expanding projects in the wilderness communities to ensure safety from the next wildfires. One point that was made by Capps was that investments made to effectively prevent wildfires today would be a mere fraction of the costs to combat future wildfires once they have started. Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin was also in attendance, giving his support to the hard-working volunteers of the WRA. “There couldn’t be a more worthy group to receive funding,” Chief Franklin said.
In addition to Capps and Franklin, County supervisors Doreen Farr and Janet Wolf came to congratulate WRA members on their efforts to protect the community. Farr commented that although the Painted Cave community is not in her district, wildfires have no respect for boundaries and that the community must be united in supporting groups like the WRA. Although this is a step in the right direction for helping those who help prevent disaster in Santa Barbara, the speakers emphasized that more funding is needed in order to properly protect wildland residents from the destructive power of wildfires.