Goats and sheep have cleared out one of Eucalyptus Hill's canyons, but two remain full of dry and overgrown brush. | Credit: Courtesy

A month into California’s official fire season, Santa Barbara has already endured one hair-raising blaze ― the Loma Fire, which broke out on TV hill and forced many residents to evacuate their Westside homes. 

In response, members of the Eucalyptus Hill Improvement Association (EHIA) on the other side of the city have initiated a grassroots campaign to help reduce the of risk wildfires in their canyons and neighborhoods.

The Eucalyptus Hill Association represents 700 homeowners in the Eucalyptus Hill area and has been fundraising to hire Cuyama Lamb, LLC, a group that brings sheep and goats to graze flammable vegetation. 

The EHIA’s focus is neighborhood disaster preparedness, and they have worked closely with the Santa Barbara City Fire Department for many years, according to the EHIA Board President Loy Beardsmore. “Our organization was formed to keep people as safe as possible, and to rely on each other during disasters,” she said.

The use of animals to reduce fire fuels is remarkably cheaper and safer than hiring crews to clear out canyons, Beardsmore explained. In fact, the City and County of Santa Barbara and the Montecito Fire Protection District have used sheep and goats a number of times in the past, including at the Tea Garden, Elings Park, Scofield Park, and the San Marcos Foothills Preserve.

The Eucalyptus Hill grazing process began the week of May 17 in the smallest of its three canyons. The EHIA would like to continue on the other two but is facing a financial shortfall. 

Thus far, all funds to pay for the project have come from homeowner donations and membership fees. The Santa Barbara Fire Department is in support of EHIA, but due to its own budget constraints, it is unable to offer any of its own funding.

The EHIA has considered applying for grants, but since its group is mainly made up of volunteers, it is difficult to find someone willing to do the tedious work of grant writing. One of Beardsmore’s major concerns is the Eucalyptus Hill Road evacuation routes being blocked by traffic in the event of a fire, especially at the roundabout at Salinas Road. 

“Our canyons are the gateway to the Eastside, Lower Eastside, Riviera, and border Montecito,” said Beardsmore. “Our association can no longer sit idly by and let what just happened with the Loma Fire occur in our neighborhood.”

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