Weather specialist John Lindsey recently made an interesting offer to our readers:
Suggest a region-specific name for hot winds that blow in from the mountains.
Far south of here they call them Santa Anas. Up the coast they are Santa Lucias. In South County they are sundowners.
Here’s our North County choice: Light-My-Fire Winds.
Whatever name you choose, the effect is the same. These hot, wicked winds that sweep down into coastal regions exponentially increase the risk of wildfires, a notable local example being the Painted Cave Fire in the early 1990s. The flames were driven by sundowner winds from San Marcos Pass into the Goleta Valley, destroying hundreds of homes and killing a woman who could not escape a wall of flames traveling downhill at the rate of an acre a minute.
Santa Barbara County fire officials were on high alert last weekend because of those hot winds. It was all hands on board, just in case.
The high-alert status is a function of the season. We are at the end of another long, dry summer. What had been green is now brown and brittle, an open invitation for the tiniest of sparks to ignite the next wildfire.
And the scary part is, this high-fire-danger situation will be with us until the winter rains come, if that happens.
Last weekend’s wildfire alert resulted in county fire crews and fire-fighting equipment called to duty 24 hours a day. More crews and a water tender with two crew members were also on hand.
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With back country areas at higher risk of fire because of blistering weather conditions, county officials are asking members of the public to be very careful with anything that has even the potential of starting a fire. That includes gasoline-powered tools and equipment, off-road vehicles, campfires and tobacco and cannabis smoking products.
The Los Padres National Forest is particularly at risk, so shooting is prohibited, campfires, charcoal fires and smoking are only allowed in certain areas. Motorized vehicles are permitted only on roads and designated trails. And, obviously, all forms of fireworks are banned.
Here’s why these warnings and restrictions are so necessary:
Last year was the worst in California history for wildfires. More than 8,500 fires burned nearly 1.9 million acres, killing 97 civilians and six firefighters. Insurance claims so far exceed $12 billion, mostly to cover the loss of more than 22,000 structures.
We don’t need a repeat of 2018, but the statistics so far give 2019 an outside shot at breaking that historic record — just under 4,100 fires through mid-August, with 51,000 acres scorched.
And while it might seem handy to blame nature for these conflagrations, the fact is that humans are responsible for starting about 95% of this state’s wildfires, and about 7% of that 95-percent total is the result of someone deliberately starting a fire. That’s a difficult reality to accept, given the property and human toll of even moderate-sized wildfires.
Still, most human-caused fires are simple mistakes — a carelessly discarded cigarette butt, sparks flying on grinding tools or lawn maintenance equipment, pulling over on the shoulder of a road and allowing your car’s exhaust system to set grasses afire.
Every situation we’ve mentioned in that previous paragraph can be avoided. All it takes is simply to engage your brain before doing the sorts of things that can trigger a large-scale disaster.
Believe us when we say you do not want to be responsible for the next monster wildfire.