Kelly Hubbard on excessive heat warning

Kelly Hubbard, inset, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management, advises residents to stay hydrated and indoors during excessive heat in this screenshot from Tuesday's livestream of the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department staffing was increased even before the excessive heat and red flag warnings were issued Monday by the National Weather Service office in Oxnard, Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said Tuesday.

He said the county also already applied to two state programs for funds to offset the costs of increased preparedness as the county continues to wither under low relative humidity and high temperatures made even more dangerous by hot Sundowner winds.

Hartwig said the winds were expected to mostly affect areas near the Gaviota Coast on Tuesday evening.

The entire county was under an excessive heat warning Tuesday except the coastal areas around Lompoc, Guadalupe and Santa Maria, which were under a less severe excessive heat watch.

Hartwig told the Board of Supervisors the highest temperatures were expected Tuesday, rising to more than 100 degrees in the northern valleys and into the 90s in the South Coast area, before temperatures cool down later in the week.

Fire Chief Mark Hartwig on fire danger.jpg

Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig, inset, outlines his department's preparedness for wildfires for the Board of Supervisors, including, clockwise from lower left, 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, 4th District Supervisor and Chairman Bob Nelson and 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, in this screen capture from the livestream of Tuesday's meeting.

But the wildfire danger won’t recede as the temperatures fall, as the short heat wave has exacerbated an already critical condition in the county’s wildlands.

“We’re about two months ahead of schedule on live fuel moistures,” Hartwig said, referring to the amount of water held in living plants that affect how quickly they will burn.

“Extreme drought persists, as we all know, and in fact the entire county is included in that [designation],” Hartwig said. “And that won’t help our live fuel moisture as we continue to progress toward and into a more active fire season.”

Hartwig said the county has had one full multijurisdictional strike team patrolling Highway 154, with a Cal Fire strike team patrolling from Highway 154 to the tunnel at Gaviota. He credited the strike team for a wildfire Monday in Gaviota being held to a small spot fire.

Hartwig said at the same time staffing was increased, County Fire applied for offsetting funds from Cal Fire for protecting lands under state jurisdiction and from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Kelly Hubbard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, said Southern California Edison had warned of potential public safety power shut-offs in the South Coast area up until midnight Tuesday and advised residents to be prepared.

“And we just remind everyone to stay hydrated and avoid outdoor activities,” Hubbard added.

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