An increase in camping and campfires along the ridge roads in the Santa Ynez Mountains raised concern among fire officials that a wind-driven wildfire could race down to the coastal cities of Santa Barbara, Montecito, Goleta, Carpinteria, and Summerland. Campfires are now banned along the ridgeline from Gaviota to the Ventura County border for two years.
The roads run across a checkerboard of National Forest and county lands, said Andrew Madsen, a spokesperson for Los Padres forest. City and county zones already outlaw campfires, and the potential danger from the federal areas has long concerned officials in the cities and county, especially after the pandemic struck and the casual camping increased. They joined Los Padres in a letter-writing campaign that convinced federal attorneys that banning campfires along the ridge made sense and did not restrict the public’s access to the forest, Madsen said.
Last October, the Alisal Fire along the Gaviota Coast was the model for a disaster propelled by dry weather and violent winds, starting at 2 in the afternoon on the ridgetops and reaching the Pacific Ocean by dusk. Gaviota has a slim coastal plain and is sparsely populated, but nearly 200,000 people live in the cities and county lands prone to sundowner winds on the south side of the Santa Ynez Mountains. (The cause of the Alisal Fire is still under investigation.)
“The campfire ban is very likely to have cascading effect, now that other jurisdictions are already looking at what we’ve done here,” said Madsen.
The ridge roads have no developed campsites or sanctioned firepits, and the fire use restriction order prohibits even holders of a California Campfire Permit from having a campfire along the ridges and roads of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The Forest Service is allowing permitholders to have lanterns and stoves. The order includes penalties of up to $5,000 and six months in prison for violations, and the ban lasts through February 24, 2024.