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High fire season declared in Santa Barbara County

Posted at 7:45 PM, May 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-03 22:45:30-04

It’s now officially high fire season for all areas of Santa Barbara County.

A lack of rain is contributing to grasses drying out earlier and most of the hillsides are turning brown and yellow.

“The fuel that you see on the hillsides, at this time already, about two months ahead of schedule is able to carry fire,” Chief Mark Hartwig of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said.

With high fire season here, those in high fire danger areas like the Painted Cave community have been prepping all year.

“It really is a 365-day awareness and preparation,” Painted Cave resident Rex Stephens said. “It's not like we have any downtime. We don’t really relax at any given time. We smelled smoke this morning and it ended up being someone's fireplace.”

Stephens has a fire hose ready right outside his doorstep in case disaster strikes.

“The fire will start in the leaf litter down here. It'll spread to the fence and it'll go tree to tree and to a house,” Stephens explained.

He and other community members have formed the Mountain Ember Team to make sure the entire mountain community is fire safe.

Most recently, they’ve been doing brush clearing.

“We’ve been making this pile for the last month and a half and we will be chipping this pile in two weeks,” Stephens said.

“We keep our leaves raked. We clean off the roof. We try to keep brush away from the house,” added David Dellinger.

The community is no stranger to fire. The Cave Fire in late 2019 was one of the bigger fires in recent years that they’ve faced. It was just a quarter-mile away from their homes.

“It's pretty intense,” Stephens said.

He says living in a high fire danger area has heightened his awareness.

“You have a tendency to pay a little bit more attention of who's parked on the road, how long they park on the road, are they making a campfire,” Stephens said.

With some community members already doing their part in the most vulnerable areas, local fire departments are preparing with more staffing and equipment.

“We are ready for the challenges that are going to be presented to us this year,” Greg Fish, President of the County Fire Chiefs Association, said.

Mid-June is when the fire department will make sure that residents have clearance around their homes but it’s recommended that it’s done sooner rather than later.

In the State of California, there is $165,000,000 worth of grants available this year to help with fire prevention projects. Santa Barbara County Fire Department says it’s applying for funds.