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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 15th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 10

Fire season starts with an early burn


The hills around Lompoc look like they should in mid-July: dry and windswept, without a hint of green.

Landscapes throughout Santa Barbara County bear the signs of those same conditions. At a May 8 press conference, county fire officials said the recent Camarillo Springs fire that burned 28,000 acres in Ventura County is an early warning sign for this season’s fire potential.

“We’re facing really dry fuels. This whole county, at one time or another, has burned and is ready to burn again,” Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Michael Dyer said during the press conference. “We have spots in this county that haven’t burned for over 100 years.”

Many of the fire departments in the county had firefighters who were part of the more than 2,000-strong fire crew that battled the Springs Fire that started on May 2 near southbound Highway 101 at Camarillo Springs Road.

The fire grew to 28,000 acres by May 4, and was 96 percent contained by May 10, according to a CalFire report. Most of the firefighters who worked the blaze said they’d never seen fire activity like that so early in the season. 

Santa Maria Fire Chief Dan Orr told the Sun his department sent nine guys down to the Springs Fire.

CalFire reported that the Springs Fire took 28,000 acres, but was 96 percent contained by May 10. Fire officials worry that this year’s high-fire-risk season has started early.

“[It was] unbelievable fire behavior,” Orr said. “That’s behavior you usually see late in the season.”

Orr said most of the big fires take place in the southern part of the county, and while Santa Maria isn’t an area prone to wildfire outbreaks, he’s always ready to help other fire departments in any way he can.

“What we are is a cooperator,” Orr told the Sun.

Santa Maria is surrounded by agricultural fields that protect it from wildfires, but the city has plenty of big buildings. If a large structure fire breaks out, Orr said his department often calls other county fire departments for help.

“It’s a very nice arrangement,” he said.

He also said it’s important for people who live within a couple miles of wilderness areas to protect their homes with firebreaks and to cut their vegetation down to a minimum.

In places like Lompoc, which is surrounded by grassy, wild hillsides, the standard is to have all hazardous weeds or overgrown conditions taken care of by the end of June. Lompoc Fire Chief Kurt Latipow said this year the hills “browned out” much earlier than they have in the past.

Latipow said his biggest fire concern for this year is how citizens will act around the Fourth of July now that the Lompoc City Council passed an ordinance in April allowing the sale of “safe and sane fireworks” within the city.

“I don’t believe it’s in our best interest to add another element of risk,” Latipow said. “All we need is an errant spark or someone acting irresponsibly.”

The last big fire Lompoc had was in 2007; it started in the city’s cemetery and quickly spread to the neighboring hillside. Mayor John Linn said the fire was started by a couple of kids playing with matches.

Linn said he isn’t concerned that city residents will be irresponsible with fireworks this July. If anything, he thinks that allowing residents the ability to legally purchase fireworks will cut down on the amount of illegal fireworks activity because people won’t have to hide what they’re doing.

He added that before he cast his vote for the ordinance, he did plenty of research and noticed that more than 200 California cities allow the sale of “safe and sane” fireworks, and he said, “not one has reversed it.”

“I’ve noticed an uptick in the amount of illegal fireworks being used over the last 10 years. This is our attempt to help with that,” Linn said. “There’s a risk to everything.”

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