Large, destructive and deadly wildfires have become the "new normal" for California, according to the state Fire Foundation, and they can break out anytime, anywhere. 

Santa Barbara County has an average of 100 wildfires per year. While almost 96% of them are contained at less than 10 acres, the exceptions are record-setting. 

The 2007 Zaca fire at just over 240,000 acres is still among the state's 20 largest wildfires since 1932, along with the Thomas fire that burned into Santa Barbara County from Ventura at almost 282,000 acres. 

State and federal officials have listed every city, town, village and cluster of homes in the county as “at risk” of wildfire, even places like Santa Maria and Guadalupe, which are surrounded by thousands of acres of farmland.

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.

Fire officials attribute the county's high risk, in part, to its location in the wildfire "Goldilocks zone," where conditions are "just right" to grow fuels, then cook them tinder-dry. 

The county's mix of topography, abundant fuels and Sundowner winds presents a specific set of challenges for firefighters who say they'd rather fight wildfires almost anywhere than the place some of them have dubbed Wildfire County.

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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.

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.

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