The nonprofit advocates simple, but not necessarily inexpensive, steps homeowners can take to make their houses more resistant to wildfires.
Bryant Baker, conservation director for ForestWatch, said the U.S. Forest Service Fire Science Laboratory has found 95% of homes that burn don’t do so because the wildfire burns right up to the house.
They burn because embers get inside the home, either through vent holes under the eaves or through windows blown out by heat and pressure differentials, then ignite exposed timbers in attics and furnishings in the rooms.
Biologists, botanists, ecologists and fire scientists generally embrace the concept that fire is a necessary part of the natural life cycle of…
“A home is sort of like a vacuum, sucking the embers in,” Baker said.
As an example, he pointed to homes burned in Paradise during the Camp fire while the trees, brush and grass around them were untouched by flames.
Baker said California's vegetation management funds would be better spent on grants to install ember screens over attic vents and retrofit homes with double-pane windows.
“Those are two key things, and we’re not putting any money to that at the state or federal level,” he said. “We’re putting $1 billion to vegetation management but zero to home hardening.”
He said funds also should be spent to create defensible space around entire communities as well as around individual homes.
“The other one we’re not doing at all — nobody is even talking about this — is building community shelters,” Baker said. “Those 85 people who died [in the Camp fire] died while trying to evacuate. … Every at-risk community should mandate these community shelters.”
Like the community tornado shelters in the Midwest, community fire shelters would be safe havens for residents who don’t have time to get out of an area if a fast-moving wildfire threatens or whose evacuation routes have been blocked by the fire.
“We have to recognize that these large fires are inevitable, so we need to find how to protect people’s lives,” Baker said.
Although “fire season” is now considered year-round in Santa Barbara County and throughout most of California, the danger level increases when a mild spring warms into a hot summer and then bakes into a blazing fall.
Fire officials attribute Santa Barbara County’s high risk, in part, to its location in the wildfire “Goldilocks zone." The county sits far enough north to get good winter rainfall, but it’s far enough south to feel the Southern California summer heat that cooks fuels tinder-dry.
Residents who lived in Mission Hills during the 2017 Rucker fire share their experiences from what was a frighteningly close call that highlighted local wildfire dangers and risks.
Steve and Renée O'Neill consider their 70-acre ranch near the top of Tepusquet Canyon one of the most beautiful properties in Santa Barbara County.
With about 14,000 homes in the communities of Vandenberg Village, Mission Hills and Mesa Oaks located on and around the reserve, and with wildfires becoming increasingly stronger and more dangerous, protecting the region from wildland blazes has become a renewed priority for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
While Santa Barbara County's fire marshal Rob Hazard doesn't believe wildfires are becoming more unpredictable in their behavior, he does acknowledge conditions are changing making them bigger, longer lasting, and being more difficult to contain.
The Cave fire that erupted Nov. 25 was a textbook example of Santa Barbara County wildfires, encompassing virtually all the elements that, in one combination or another, have characterized the South Coast’s most significant blazes.
“Firenado” sounds like the title for a campy science-fiction flick, but it’s a real phenomenon that firefighters say they’re seeing more often as wildfires worldwide become more intense.
As the Whittier Fire raged up the slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains, 30 young campers and 12 staff members escaped from Circle V Ranch Camp along the dirt access road to Highway 154. But in the blink of an eye, 83 people, including 56 campers, were trapped by a wall of flame.
The best way to prepare for wildfires is to prevent them from igniting in the first place. But that may be far easier said than done, because the primary cause of wildfires is people.
Two methods of preventing and controlling wildfires are so mired in controversy that getting their use approved is difficult and if approved, opposition sometimes brings them to a halt. Ironically, both sides cite the Thomas fire as evidence to bolster their positions.