8 May 2009, 2:18pm
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Santa Barbarans Burned Again

You would think that somebody there would have figured it out by now.

Here you have a coastal community with a Mediterranean climate pinched between the Los Padres National Forest and the deep blue sea. Water to the south, chaparral to north. One of those two eco-types catches fire now and again. Guess which one.

The Los Padres NF is a vast fire-adapted ecosystem. That is well known. What is little known is that the kind of fires that have been most prevalent over the last ten thousand plus years have been anthropogenic ones.

Human beings have lived in Santa Barbara for 10,000+ years and generally have been adverse to catastrophic fire. Major fires destroy resources and so put the survival of the residents in jeopardy. The residents long ago realized that frequent, seasonal, deliberate burning was preferable to sitting around on backsides and waiting for the fuels to build up to catastrophic levels.

But unfortunately, in our modern mobile age, the current residents have forgotten, or not been clued into, the fact that flammable fuels accumulate in Mediterranean climates and will burn catastrophically unless treated before that happens.

The previous residents, during the entirety of the Holocene up until recently, managed to prevent catastrophic fires through experienced, applied stewardship, even though they lacked modern technology.

The current residents sit pretty much carefree or impotent in their technology-rich million-dollar homes. They are either clueless as to the hazard, or defenseless victims of forces they cannot control or influence, such as their own government.

The clueless hypothesis is questionable. Last year the Tea Fire [here] burned 200+ homes in Montecito and the Gap Fire [here] burned 9,400 acres north of Goleta in the West Camino Cielo area. The year before that the Zaca Fire burned 240,000 acres of the Los Padres NF over a two month period, cost more than $120 million in direct fire suppression expenses, and was the most expensive fire in California history.

Santa Barbarans have to know their landscape is flammable. There have been too many direct fire assaults to countenance claims of ignorance. Stupidity might be, but ignorance is not an excuse any longer.

As of yesterday evening the Jesusita Fire [here] had burned 75 residences in the Mission Canyon/Camino Cielo area adjacent to Santa Barbara. Over 30,000 residents have been evacuated. The fire is spreading west towards Goleta and south towards Montecito.

Last night more homes were destroyed as strong northwest winds fanned the flames. The Santa Maria Times reports [here]:

Jesusita Fire opens two major fronts

Damaging sundowner winds expected to return

By Staff, Santa Maria Times, May 8, 2009

After a “harrowing night” that saw more homes destroyed by wind-driven flames, firefighters battling the Jesusita Fire above Santa Barbara are bracing for another challenging day.

The fire now is burning on two major fronts — one on the west end that is threatening the city of Goleta, and a second that has surged toward the upscale community of Montecito on the east.

In between is an estimated five miles of fire front, much of it in rugged, chaparral-covered canyons dotted by homes.

“The fire’s still going strong; the weather patterns are supposed to mirror what happened yesterday,” Capt. David Sadecki, Santa Barbara County Fire Department, said this morning. “We’re still working hard.”

Temperatures are expected to rise into the mid-90s with northwest winds at 20 to 30 mph and gusts in the canyons reaching 45 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Dangerous “sundowner” winds that were conspicuously absent through the afternoon roared to life Thursday night, pushing fire crews to the limit.

“Literally, last night all hell broke loose,” said Andrew DiMizio, fire chief for the city of Santa Barbara, recalling the surge of flames as the unpredictable winds raced through the region with gusts up to 50 mph.

Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin called the night “harrowing,” and noted the valiant efforts of fire crews to keep flames from pressing south into city neighborhoods, especially in the San Roque area of Santa Barbara.

The blaze has now burned at least 3,500 acres, a number that is sure to rise considerably during the day, according to fire officials. Containment estimates remain at 10 percent.

Some 30,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders, and another 23,000 have been warned to be prepared to leave their homes on a moment’s notice.

As has been the case since the fire began Tuesday afternoon, the primary fight against the fire will be from the air. Twelve fixed-wing aircraft — including a giant DC-10 — will be joined by 15 water-dropping helicopters.

The other major component to the firefight will be hand crews that ultimately must surround the blaze with fire lines.

Some 2,500 people are now assigned to the fire fight, which as of this morning has a $2.6 million price tag for suppression costs.

Ten firefighters have been injured in the blaze, the cause of which remains under investigation. …

One idea that might appeal to Santa Barbarans is landscape-scale ecological restoration. To “restore” something means to bring it back into its original condition, or in the case of landscapes, into some reference condition. A reference condition is one of the myriad historical conditions which is selected for its applicability to modern needs. The pre-Colombian condition was suitably fire-resilient and relatively fire-safe for the residents, and so a good guidepost for restoration.

For millennia human beings tended the landscapes of California and elsewhere. Tending means to care for the land so that it produces more good things, like foods, fibers, and clean water, and less bad things, like catastrophic fire.

By understanding the ancient landscape, and applying treatments similar to those used successfully for millennia, various goods such as heritage, public health and safety, wildlife habitat, clean water, etc, can be maximized and catastrophic fire risks minimized.

Restoration involves collaborative actions and treatments. Mother Nature alone is not going to make any place safely and productively habitable by people. Mother Nature is disaster-prone. Human tending augments Mother Nature by restraining her penchant for catastrophe.

The “wildland” part of the Wildland Urban Interface is not actually wild. That ground has been inhabited and tended by people for a long time, people who were not clueless or sitting-duck victims of incompetent government. “Wild” is a racist conceit in that it denies the (undeniable) historical existence and agency of humanity. Tend it or lose it — or more to the point — tend it or it will rise up and devour you.

Sitting on backsides waiting for the fiery Godot to complete the absurdist tale is beatnik existential but not fit — Darwinist forces will eliminate you from the gene pool.

These are not difficult concepts. Fuel burns. Reduce the fuels and you reduce the fire hazard. Do it holistically with restorative treatments and all landscape resources benefit.

Here is another easy concept to grasp: if you don’t do it, if you don’t effect restoration of your landscape, you will someday be a victim of destructive forces beyond your control.

9 May 2009, 7:51am
by YPmule

Every time we read about people fleeing and homes burning we think “that could have been us”. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you practice Firewise if the forest around you is “untended”. In our area, more and more of the land is designated “roadless” (after they close the existing roads) sort of a sly way to say “future wilderness” - virtually guaranteeing that the land will never be tended by humans again and become prone to more mega fires.

Instead of throwing our hands in the air and huddling in evacuation centers while our homes burn, saying there is nothing we can do because of “global warming” - we need to get off our collective asses and go to work restoring the land. We also need to pull our heads our of our rears and realize that catastrophic fires are not just in forests and that we all need to be firewise whether you live in Boise Idaho (Oregon Trail Fire) or Midwest City Oklahoma.

Our thoughts and sympathy to the folks in California and to the hardworking firefighters.

9 May 2009, 8:35am
by bear bait

The concept of a flammable environment just does not seem to resonate with people looking for exclusivity and solitude.

The best thing that will come out of this fire is that it will possibly burn some feral cats, and a lot of cat crap on the ground. If the sea otters can get around that cat crap from storm runoff events, and the parasites that it carries, they might be able to expand their range southward.

I also have this sort of karma view of it all. The Native American genocide mentality still runs through the rhetoric of wild lands and wilderness. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. You ignore the 10,000 year history of landscape management, preemptive burning, fuels management, all designed to NOT have catastrophic fire (no insurance, fire depts. or food banks) on the very landscape that was meant to nurture and support those people who were here before Europeans. And it was beautiful to look at. Vast grasslands full of wildflowers, tall trees scattered about, and spreading oaks. No eucalyptus trees, no palms. The invasive exotics that fire the current landscape, and the chaparral brush willing to occupy land after fires, were either not there or kept in control by frequent low level firing of the landscape. People worked to protect the land that fed them, that clothed them, that protected them. Concept!!! Time, effort and treasure to protect the land by managed fire!! In a society without lawyers. It worked. It worked and was so desirable that to get it the murder of native peoples became a Sunday sport, born out of manifest destiny. Be proud. “This land was made for you and me.” Patriotic music. So you get what you get because you deserve what you get. Manifest fire destiny.

So, after living with the endless lawsuits by Green terrorists insistent on no human involvement on public land (think USFS), all fueled by money from the people who have enough to think that they are smarter than land managers, it does not surprise me that Santa Barbara burns, and that should be used as an opportunity. That area is short on water. Just don’t let people rebuild in the burned over land. That will conserve water. Don’t do anything to remove fuels for the next fire. Don’t mug that burn victim. Enough fire, enough times, across the same landscape, and it will become once again the prairies and fields that if burned frequently, will keep bad fire from the city core. Do as you say, to the rest of us, and not as you have done, people of SoCal. Live in your landscape, and with it, and if chaparral and fire is what you want, go right ahead on her. But you pay for it. Leave us out of it. We have enough problems living with all your good ideas about auto emissions, infill building, barbecue and lawn mower exhaust. And while you are at it, use less water. You are water hogs. Either build more reservoirs, or limit building. You ain’t getting our water, now, soon, or at anytime. Fuggetaboutit!!!!

9 May 2009, 10:39am
by Bob Z.

bear bait, as usual, makes good sense. The people in Southern California don’t seem to know how to manage irrigation water or fire — either one — yet seem to spawn dozens of lawyers and rich “environmentalists”with the audacity to tell knowledgeable resource managers how to do their job. And regularly sue to keep them from doing it.

If the solution were only as easy as bear bait states!

More than 50 years ago an undergraduate forestry student at Oregon State University won recognition and a $50 prize at an annual competition for proposing that Southern Californians could save lives, homes, and money by regularly burning the native fuels from their landscapes; as ancestral resource managers had been doing for thousands of years.

I don’t think the student mentioned that the use of irrigation water to artificially support decorative exotics made the situation even worse, but since no one listened to him anyway, the additional information would have been moot.

This problem also exists throughout the United States and Australia, and probably in other areas of the world as well. The problem and solution are well known to most of the scientific community not willing to blame it on Global Warming.

How do we get people to understand the consequences of burning down their own homes and communities? Isn’t one (good) definition of “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over — yet expecting different results?

Maybe we could get bear bait on Oprah to explain how this works. People seem to listen to her.



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