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Santa Barbara County firefighters talk wildfire safety in Burton Mesa area

Posted at 10:33 PM, Jan 31, 2019

Santa Barbara County Fire officials engaged with neighbors in the Burton Mesa area Thursday to talk about fire dangers.

It was the first time the community, which includes Vandenberg Village and Mission Hills, hosted a meeting like this since the Rucker Fire burned 600 acres in 2017.

It’s been almost two years since the fire, but many neighbors say it’s still fresh on their minds.

“What are they doing? What are their plans? What are we going to do about these concerns?” said Anita McManigal, who lives in Mission Hills.  

“It’s just nerve-wracking when you have a fire that’s so close,” said Gwyneth DeBiase, a Mission Hills resident who is upset about dead trees and what she says was a lack of communication during the evacuations.  

On Thursday, Santa Barbara County Firefighters addressed the Burton Mesa community in a town hall-style meeting. Captain Fred Tan began his presentation by telling the audience: “We have not forgotten about you”

“We feel like we have the ball rolling politically, with the county, with the state, with the community, with the people we have involved in this section to really help protect all of Santa Barbara County, including the Burton Mesa community,” Captain Tan said.  

He explained some of the hazards this area faces, including the unique ability to burn in high relative humidity.

“This [chart] represents fuel that hasn’t been burned for over 30 years. So there is a fuel problem here but it is mitigated slightly because you don’t have the extreme weather that they do in the front country and the extreme topography, but there is a good possibility of large fires,” said Captain Tan.

A lot of the brush back in the Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village area has been untouched for several years, creating a significant fuel source in the event of a fire.

Now county fire officials are working on several projects to mitigate the issue, including prescribed burns near La Purisima. They have to be especially sensitive there, however, because of the wildlife that lives around the state park.

“If we could take a bulldozer and put a big ring around Mission Hills, we could do it probably in one weekend but we’re going to use our hand crews and do it selectively. We have very defined criteria as to how we’ll do this vegetation management,” Deputy Fire Marshal Rob Hazard explained.

County fire recommended neighbors ensure there is defensible space around their homes and suggested creating a Community Wildfire Protection Plan that can help zero in on other problem areas as well as helping with evacuation plans

“It would address specific fire risks for your community, the fire hazards that we face and what types of strategies could we take as a community and what would we take as an agency to reduce that wildfire risk in Burton Mesa,” Hazard said.

Several neighbors at the meeting also voiced concerns about the evacuations during the Rucker Fire; a process they said needed to be more streamlined to keep people safe.

SBC Fire officials recommended signing up with Aware and Prepare to get evacuation orders early on, but it’s up to the Sheriff’s Office to ultimately set the evacuation procedures.