That trace of precipitation earlier this week certainly didn’t hurt drought-ravaged Santa Barbara, but at a press conference Tuesday midmorning, just as the last few rain clouds dried up and blew away, Montecito Fire Protection District Chief Chip Hickman warned, “This is not the time to let our guard down because we’ve had a little inclement weather.” Motioning to the desiccated mountainsides looming over district headquarters, Hickman said Santa Barbara’s front country and the Sierra foothills are the top two high-fire-hazard regions in all of Central and Southern California, as identified by federal wildfire experts.
Hickman then introduced James Rappuhn, a firefighter and field representative for AIG, an insurance company that provides extra layers of coverage for homeowners in neighborhoods where wildfire potential is a fact of life or death. Hickman explained that since 2009, AIG — which has about 75 clients in the district — has been collaborating with Montecito Fire to “pretreat” high-traffic roadside areas — such as turnout hangouts and trailheads — with a “nontoxic and biodegradable” spray-on fire retardant called Phos-Chek. Crews then piled into AIG’s Wildfire Protection Unit truck — a Ford F-550 outfitted with a holding tank, hose, and generator — to douse the nearby Buena Vista trailhead with Phos-Chek. Hickman described the heavily vegetated area as “severely distressed,” with half its chaparral dead or dying.
In related news, Montecito Fire District has two of its engines and eight personnel in Amador and Calaveras counties fighting the Butte Fire. Also, in Northern California, Governor Brown issued a state of emergency in Lake and Napa counties for the Valley Fire.