Just one day before the State of California declares the COVID pandemic effectively over in terms of mandated emergency precautions, the National Weather Service declared a red flag warning for Santa Barbara County from the evening of Monday, June 14 — at 6 p.m. — to the morning of Wednesday, June 16 — at 6 a.m.
Commanding the concern of county firefighters is a trifecta of three extreme weather circumstances converging all at once: low relative humidity, temperatures expected to spike into the upper 90s, and winds gusting from the north as fast as 40 miles an hour. Under these circumstances any fire could take off at a dangerous gallop.
County Fire spokesperson Captain Daniel Bertucelli is warning members of the public to use extreme caution when operating any machinery capable of producing sparks or flames, especially in the proximity of dry grass. Weed whackers and pipe cutters are just two that come to mind. Catalytic converters get exceptionally hot and have been known to set off more than a few fires.
If you see smoke, Bertucelli stated, call 9-1-1. If you call from a cell phone, be sure you can describe your location to dispatchers. Likewise, he concluded, have an evacuation plan in mind and identify at least two exit routes from your neighborhood. He also urged members of the public to avoid any camping in the front or back country. Should a fire break out there, he warned, there’s no guarantee you can be safely rescued.
Based on the elevated risk, Bertucelli stated that the Santa Barbara County Fire Department — in coordination with CalFire and the state Office of Emergency Services — will have eight additional engines on hand, not to mention two additional dozers, two additional hand crews, and two dispatch crews. One helicopter is on standby. Four tankers are currently stationed in Paso Robles if need be. Typically, Santa Barbara has availed itself of the tanker base in Santa Maria, but it remains too soon in the fire season for the Santa Maria base to be operational. For those seeking more information, please visit the sbcfire.com website and check out “Ready, Set, Go” or go to the ReadyForWildfire.org page.
Because of the high winds expected on Tuesday, SoCalEdison has alerted customers in certain areas that electrical power may shut down. As of noon on Monday, a potential Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) could occur between 6 a.m. and midnight on June 15, said David Song, a spokesperson for Edison.
About 5,160 customers would be affected by the powerdown, which could occur in a half dozen areas, according to Edison’s current map. (See SCE.com/wildfire/psps, which locates sectors by zip code.) Edison would close the circuits to keep wires from touching, arcing, and potentially cause a fire.
The areas currently appear to be Hollister Ranch out to Jalama, the western border of Goleta to about Tajiguas, the State Route 154 area down through the San Antonio Creek drainage to Cathedral Oaks Road, and parts of Montecito from Skofield Park to San Ysidro Road. During windstorms, Edison observers on the ground and in the emergency operations center coordinate information on the ferocity of the winds, often recorded in the field by small weather stations on utility poles, and in what areas damage is occurring, Song said.
Customers who signed up for alerts are to receive them 48 and 24 hours in advance of a potential shutoff, and though Edison tries to notify before an actual outage, Song said the dynamic nature of the emergency sometimes made such notifications impossible. As well, Edison will let customers know if an outage was due to a PSPS after the fact.
Should the power go off, Community Resource Centers will activate and provide charging stations, water, and information, Song said. The two South Coast location are the Independent Living Resource Center (423 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara) and Resident Inn in Goleta (6350 Hollister Ave.); both will be open 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Correction: The PSPS is for Tuesday, June 15, not June 14.