If you’re near Midland School in Los Olivos or close to Painted Cave Road off of Highway 154, that smell of smoke in the air is nothing to sweat over. Any signs and smells of fire are likely the result of the prescribed burns taking place in those areas this week, orchestrated by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, County Air Pollution Control District, and California Air Resources Board.
Prescribed, or controlled, burns are conducted to clear away dead underbrush and other debris to help prevent the spread of wildfires, protect residential areas, and reduce impacts to watersheds that can result in soil loss and sedimentation. The method stems from Indigenous tradition, and the practice of using controlled burning to prevent large, out-of-control wildfires goes back thousands of years among Native California tribes.
The prescribed burn at Midland School will only last a few days at most, between November 29 and December 3, and the continuation of the Painted Cave pile burn that began on November 28 will be over by December 4.
Plans for both prescribed burns depend on when and if weather conditions are favorable for directing smoke away from surrounding communities to minimize impacts on air quality. However, county officials say that “nearby residents should prepare for the potential for residual smoke” in the short time following the fires.
Up to seven acres of brush will be burned and cleared in the Painted Cave area, in addition to finishing the project of burning approximately 400 acres of sage scrub and oak woodland in Los Olivos started in October. The prescribed burn near Midland School and Spaulding Ranch from October 10-12 was unable to be completed due to unfavorable weather conditions. If weather conditions do not permit the completion of either of the two burns planned for this week, the burn will be rescheduled.
County officials say that residents should take caution when driving near prescribed burns and use common sense to reduce any harmful health effects by staying indoors if they smell smoke and avoiding strenuous outdoor activity, especially for children, older adults, and people with lung or heart conditions who are sensitive to smoke.