Two weeks ago, Carpinteria-Summerland Fire District Chief Mike Mingee warned that fuel moisture levels are at a 10-year low and that the hillsides are “dry, dry, dry.” Both Santa Barbara County Fire and Los Padres Forest officials followed up on that message this week.
“Current Santa Barbara County average live fuel moisture levels are at 64 percent,” County Fire spokesperson David Sadecki warned.
Sixty percent is considered critical. Declining live fuel moisture may reach a threshold that increases susceptibility to large wildfires. Sadecki noted that measurements taken in the chamise plant community, one of the most fire susceptible plants in the chaparral, show levels that make it ready to burn. “Though chamise is evergreen,” Sadecki added, “it is sensitive to seasonal drought… In extreme conditions, rapid dry-down can happen in days, for example during Santa Ana winds affecting Southern California.”
Noting that fires can easily begin in lighter, flashy fuels like oats and other weedy species, and then quickly transition into chaparral communities like the chamise, Los Padres National Forest is promoting what it calls the “One Less Spark, One Less Wildfire campaign.”
“All the stories we hear about sparks starting wildland fires are true, especially during this hot, dry summer,” said Los Padres National Forest Fire Management Officer Carrie Landon. “With the low precipitation over the winter, conditions are ideal for fire starts. We’re coordinating with communities, agencies, organizations and schools to heighten awareness and reduce the number of accidental fires.”
In May, the White Fire burned through a portion of the Santa Ynez Recreation Area, endangering thousands of visitors on Memorial Day and costing more than $1.5 million dollars to suppress. This fire was started when coals from a small portable BBQ at White Rock Day Use Area ignited nearby grass, quickly spreading across the Santa Ynez River and moving into steep terrain.
Sadecki stressed the need for people think about what they are doing and where they are doing it. “Think about the ramifications of what you’re doing,” he added. “You cannot be careful enough when conditions are as severe as they are right now.”