The fire(s) last time

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department has put out a Red Flag Alert:

As of 2:00 pm, August 13, 2007, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, in conjunction with other fire agencies in the county, has declared a county-wide “RED FLAG ALERT”. This alert will be in effect until 9:00 pm on August 15th, 2007, when it will be reassessed. This “RED FLAG ALERT” is being declared based on the change in weather conditions towards a warmer period coupled with low relative humidities and predicted Sundowner winds in the South coast Area.

Inciweb says the alert is “a reminder to local residents to be fire safe”.

Well, the main problem for the whole South Coast is actually the high degree of fire safety that has actually been sustained for a record length of time. Our last big wild fire was Painted Cave, in 1990 — seventeen years ago. Going back in time, fires were five, six, two, six, five, one and nine years earlier.

That means we’ve been lulled into a degree of lassitude about the likelihood of wildfires. Yes, fire prevention, fighting and supresion have all improved. but the fact remains that Santa Barbara is sandwiched between the sea and mountains, literally, of what firefighters call “fuel”. If a fire comes down the mountain, pushed by “sundowner” or Santa Ana winds, we’re going to see dozens, hundreds or thousands of homes burned within hours.

I was witness to the Oakland fire of 1990, which killed 26 people and burned over 3000 homes in a matter of hours. At one point houses were exploding at a rate of one every four seconds. We had friends who lost both homes and neighbots there. I also toured the area not long afterward as a board member of a local Red Cross chapter. It was a life-changing experience. I saw cars melted to metal puddles. Home sites where even chimneys were gone, their bricks and rocks exploded by heat exceeding that of steel mill blast furnaces.

To help us understand what all of us face but relatively few of us have experienced, I’ll point to an excellent series on Santa Barbara Wildfires at Santa Barbara Outdoors. Here’s the list, with links to each:


I said here that we need a full-service public radio station to do what our existing public and commercial stations do not appear to be in a position to do, should an Oakland-grade fire come down the mountains and into town.

That will take awhile to make happen. Meanwhile, what will we do to inform ourselves if a fire like that comes next week, next month or even next year?

I have some thoughts about that, which I’ve been getting ready to publish in a post at Linux Journal. Look for that on Thursday, after I’m back in town. (I’ve been in Boston and Baltimore for the past several weeks.)

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2 Responses to The fire(s) last time

  1. Pingback: Doc Searls Weblog · House cremation revisited

  2. Having lived in Santa Barbara for several years and after the latest fire to hit Montecito its pretty evident that some restructuring has to happen for SB to be safe in the next wildfire. The largest problem is that there is basically only one road in and out of SB (HWY 101) if the fire is coming down from the mountains the 154 is basically out of the question. The way that traffic bottlenecks in and around downtown is ridiculous just with afternoon traffic. Imagine if all the residents of SB needed to be evacuated! I know they have done some work to improve the flow of traffic but there needs to be a major revamp of the highway system in and out of SB for the safety of its citizens.

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