Last night’s power outages were a reminder of how quickly life can be brought to a standstill, as most of the South County was without power for a short time. With the exception of a few isolated areas in Isla Vista and the Mesa, Edison had the power switched back on in most places before midnight. Due to the fact that the larger power transmission line affected by the fire is out of commission, Edison officials remarked at a 2 p.m. press conference that all power is now being run through a smaller transmission line. Jane Brown, a public affairs officer with Edison, said that energy conservation is of paramount importance during times of crisis. In a situation that could be compared to plugging twelve strands of Christmas lights into a single outlet, customers were cautioned to limit their use of power. “I’m very concerned that people make preparations in case this happens again,” she said, offering suggestions such as unplugging plasma TVs and turning off unused lights and appliances to save electricity. Rolling blackouts are expected.
With new mandatory evacuations having been issued for residents along West Camino Cielo, west of Highway 154 (including Kinevan Road and the Haney Tract), and an evacuation warning for those living in Hidden Valley and the San Marcos Trout Club, sentiments of preparedness were echoed by all fire, police, and elected officials who spoke this afternoon. “It’s very important that our residents pay attention to what is going on,” said Goleta Mayor Michael Bennett, “not the least of which can be accomplished by looking at the burning mountains.” Evacuation orders for La Patera and Glen Annie Canyons, and the evacuation warning for the north side of Cathedral Oaks Road still stand.
Last night, the City of Goleta tested its new reverse 911 system by sending an information update to City residents. According to officials, the system worked well, but not without a few glitches. “We had a few instances of calls going to people in the City of Santa Barbara, but those people asked not to be taken off the list, because the information was so good,” said Bennett. The problem came when the power went out. Since reverse 911 calls are sent primarily to landline telephones, many households with the new style phones that require a phone line and a plug into the wall socket were not able to receive the calls, as the phones did not turn on. When the power is out, only the old-style telephones relying upon phone line-supplied power will work. Sheriff Bill Brown also reminded people that they can receive the calls on cell phones if they register on the County Sheriff’s website. “It’s important that you don’t rely wholly on this system, but it can give an edge,” he said, cautioning people to maintain vigilance on TV and radio reports, such as those on cable TV channel 20, for continued updates on the fire and evacuation orders.
State of Emergency, Bad Air Quality
Following the Resolution ratified by the County Board of Supervisors to declare a local state of emergency, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also declared Santa Barbara County to be in a state of emergency, making it the 11th county in California to be placed in a state of emergency this season. This will make more resources available to fire crews and local governments and puts the large number of fire personnel and equipment coming into the area under a unified command – the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. California is the only state with a statewide office of mutual services, and it is used as a model in Canada, and some European countries, according to Ishmael Messer, a 44-year fire fighter who has worked for the service for the past ten years.
The County Department of Public Health had its own warnings to dole out, stating in a press conference that the smoke caused by the fire can cause serious health risks to people with conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). People are cautioned to avoid strenuous activity outside when there is visible smoke, or when it can be tasted or smelled, and those who must be outside for work or other activities are cautioned to use a properly fitted respirator. The N95 mask, which is what is being handed out to safety personnel not working in the active fire zone, will be made available to the public by Direct Relief International tomorrow, July 4, at two Goleta Public Information Booths located in the Camino Real Market Place and the Goleta Valley Community Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p..m.
Assemblymember Pedro Nava, Sharon Siegel (Lois Capps’ district manager), Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, and 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal also offered their support today, again pushing preparedness. Blum said that if the evacuation orders change, Santa Barbara Police will be made available to assist with the operation.
Although the weather forecast shows little likelihood of strong winds tonight, a change in windspeed could accelerate the fire or alter its direction. “We’re in the thick of this now,” said County Fire Chief John Scherrei. “We’re subject to the winds and to this electrical dysfunction.” Again, residents of the South Coast are advised to monitor cable TV channel 20, as well as radio stations, for continued updates on the fire and evacuation orders.