Only two weeks into fire season, local fire officials say the critical conditions seen now are months ahead of schedule.
As the weather has continued warming up across the Central Coast, the number of fires in Santa Barbara County has seemingly become more frequent as well. Fire officials say a combination of the heat, along with a lack of moisture and inadequate fire safety awareness are all factors that can escalate the number of blazes seen across the region.
Santa Barbara County Fire officials say the department has responded to 31 fires between the beginning of the year and May 16, which is eight more than the number of fires reported during that same period of time last year.
"Since we had less rain, increased sundowners, it is drying out our fuels that allows the fuels to take to fire much easier," said Santa Barbara County Fire PIO Scott Safechuck.
Safechuck adds that these conditions have put the county into critical fire conditions several months early than previous years.
Also, given the recent increase in fires seen alongside Santa Barbara County highways, Safechuck wants drivers to be aware of the amplified risks of driving during these warmer months.
"Roadside fires do start a lot from vehicles that aren't well-maintained." Safechuck continued.
Meantime, Pat Nicoll, owner of Pat's Automotive in Santa Maria, says a poorly maintained vehicle can shoot sparks from behind, which could easily set fire to nearby vegetation.
"All cars nowadays have catalytic converters and those are underneath the car. Those get very hot when you are driving; so you have to be very careful about not pulling your car off the road into some dry brush," he said.
And while the fires seen around the county these past few weeks have fortunately been contained before getting too big in size, Safechuck says his team has to be ready to respond any time a blaze breaks out.
"It was good practice for our fires that can get much bigger and at a faster rate. With coordinated efforts from our counterparts at the city, CAL FIRE, with our resources, our new Fire Hawk helicopter that just does an amazing job with how fast it can get to the fire, our firefighters and all the other fire agencies in the county are well prepared for this fire season," Safechuck said.
Santa Barbara County Fire Department officials say they still do not have an exact number of fires they have responded to since fire season officially began.
They also say if your car is in need of repairs, it is a good idea to stay off of the road.