When asked when fire season officially starts, SLO County Fire Safe Council Executive Director Dan Turner couldn’t help but chuckle. Thanks to climate change, he said, fire season is practically year-round in California.
“Typically in San Luis Obispo County, you start experiencing fires mid-April out on the east side of the county, which dries out a lot faster,” Turner said. “It will go through November—that’s kind of historically typical.”
But in recent decades, the rainy season has changed dramatically, and with it, the fire season. This year, Turner said, January was particularly dry. No rain, unseasonably warm weather, and windy conditions create the perfect storm for fires.
“What we’re seeing now is that it stopped raining earlier than April, and it starts raining later than October,” Turner said. “So the dry season, the non-rainy season, has gotten longer.”
Fire safe councils and fire departments across the Central Coast are working to mitigate fire risk using funds from the California Climate Investments Wildfire Prevention Grants Program, administered by Cal Fire.
Along the South Coast, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department is the main recipient of California Climate Investments Wildfire Prevention Grants, said Jonathan Gee of Cal Fire.
“Santa Barbara County got about a $6.5 million grant in the last grant cycle for a vegetation management project in the Tepusquet area,” east of Santa Maria, Gee said. “The Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council also got about $686,000 to create Firewise programs in Santa Barbara County.”
Firewise USA is a national recognition granted to communities that meet certain standards of wildfire awareness and action to mitigate risk, Turner explained.
“They require that the community engage, that the community participates and holds events to reduce fire hazard and to prevent ignitions,” Turner said. “The main value in my perspective of a Firewise community is the community is aware there’s a problem and they’re doing something about it. That’s the first step.”
Currently, the SLO County Fire Safe Council is managing $12.6 million worth of grants, most of which is from the state fund, plus a few from PG&E.
“It’s a variety of projects, from planning projects to doing fuel treatment projects, public education, and outreach projects,” Turner said. “Our purpose is to educate and help people prepare, and then work with people on hazard reduction.”
The SLO County Fire Safe Council is a nonprofit organization made up of all sorts of different wildfire stakeholders from across the county.
“We literally do things from one end of the county to the other,” Turner said. “There’s four or five areas where we’re concentrating quite a bit of effort and work on. One is the Cambria area.”
One of the biggest wildfire threats on the North Coast is the region’s forest health.
“We just started late last fall a very significant project that’s going to take 10 years to accomplish in doing forest health treatment on the Monterey pine stand up there, which will make the forest healthier,” Turner said. “A healthier forest is a less fire-prone forest.”
• Marian Regional Medical Center donated 60 bikes to second and third graders who completed a four-week bike safety and training course at Alvin and Rice elementary schools in Santa Maria. The hands-on bicycle education course was taught by volunteers from SBBIKE+Coast in partnership with the schools. After students completed the four-week bike safety and training course, SBBIKE+Coast hosted a pre-owned bike sale; all bikes were inspected and renovated for safety and longevity, sold for $20, and included a free helmet. According to the CDC, helmets reduce overall head injuries by about 60 percent and fatalities by about 73 percent.
Reach Staff Writer Malea Martin from the Sun’s sister paper, New Times, at [email protected].