Heavy winds, low humidity, and hot air are expected to combine to create Red Flag conditions along southern Santa Barbara County’s coastal and mountain areas starting this afternoon. To get ready for weather like this, fire officials countywide have staffed up both manpower and equipment since the beginning of high fire season on May 14. At about the same time that the National Weather Service and local fire chiefs were making their decisions, CalFire released information on what started 12 of the roughly 170 fires that consumed Northern California last fall.
What’s called the October Fire Siege of 2017 burned 245,000 acres from Humboldt to Sonoma counties and across Mendocino and Napa to Butte County and killed at least 12 people. The cause of eight of those fires were branches, treetops, or trees falling into power lines, investigators concluded; four were caused by power equipment contacting the ground. Altogether, the collision of trees and PG&E power equipment during extreme winds and dry weather are so far blamed for a dozen of the Northern California fire storms. The potential for lawsuits has sent PG&E to Sacramento to lobby for relief, arguing that the magnitude of the losses the company faces means the state could lose a power provider.
An official cause has not yet been determined in the Thomas Fire, which began in December, but attorneys for some fire victims have filed suit against Southern California Edison. The power company is monitoring weather conditions in Santa Barbara this weekend, said spokesperson Jim Hanggi, but does not anticipate having to turn off the power because of high winds, which it has done in other locations under similar circumstances. “Customers and local governments would be notified of any actions taken like that,” he said.
The Red Flag Warning in zones CAZ252 and CAZ239 lasts from 3 p.m. Saturday through 10 a.m. on Monday, June 11. The public is asked to report smoke to 9-1-1, evaluate two exit options from their neighborhood, take precautions if using spark-generating equipment, and report suspicious persons or vehicles for the duration.
The NorCal wildfires deemed due to trees and power lines so far are La Porte, McCourtney, Lobo, Honey, Redwood, Cherokee, Norrbom, Adobe, Partrick, Nuns, Pocket, and Atlas fires. The Sulphur, 37, Blue, and Pythian fires were caused by power equipment alone. Sulphur, Blue, Norrbom, Partrick, Pythian, Adobe, Pocket, Atlas, McCourtney, Lobo, and Honey fires have been referred to district attorneys in their respective counties.