The Jesusita Fire that burned nearly 9,000 acres in Santa Barbara is almost completely out, but it serves as a good reminder that fire season in Southern California is pretty much from January 1 to December 31.
Some of the strike forces from Los Angeles County that went up to help fight the fire have returned to their home stations, as the fire is considered to be 70 percent contained.
While the Jesusita Fire is suspected to have been started from a spark from brush clearing equipment being used to increase defensible space, it’s a good time to take stock of how the Santa Clarita area will respond when fire threatens our valley again.
First, some statistics from the Jesusita Fire:
• 8,733 acres burned
• Damage assessment in progress – initial estimate of 77 homes destroyed, 22 homes have been damaged, 60 outbuildings destroyed and 69 outbuildings damaged
• Approximately 145 properties evacuated (mandatory evacuation orders); affects approxinmately 362 people
• Residences threatened – 500
• 4,104 personnel on scene: 403 engines, 110 crews; 5 air tankers including the DC10 and 10 helicopters
• 28 firefighter injuries to date
• Cause under investigation: Tip line (805) 686-5074
• Air quality warning remains in effect
• Estimated costs to date $10.8 million
• Expected containment 5/13/09
The public is reminded to keep out of the remaining mandatory evacuation order areas, which include Painted Cave Road at Hwy 154, Painted Cave Road to East Camino Cielo; East Camino Cielo to Hwy 154; Hwy 154 to Painted Cave Road. East Camino Cielo and Gibraltar Road remain closed.
Animals now in shelter as a result of the fire are estimated to be 975; Santa Barbara Humane Society – 529 animals (239 cats, 127 dogs, 146 birds, 6 livestock and 18 miscellaneous); Animal Services – 259 animals (22 birds, 195 cats, 16 dogs, and 25 rabbits or rodents); Equine Evacuation – 187 total (116 horses, 3 pigs, 1 llama, 15 goats, 10 opossums, 10 mules and donkeys, 20 rabbits, and 12 chickens). In addition, a large number of crates, both medium- and large-sized - are needed to assist with sheltering the animals evacuated due to the fire. Donors may bring them to the Santa Barbara Humane Society at 5399 Overpass Road, Santa Barbara.
One of the ways fire professionals keep tabs on fire danger is to measure the moisture present in the fuel. Four major types of vegetation, which grow profusely in the area, are measured: chamise, black and purple sage, California sagebrush and both bigpod ceanothus and hoaryleaf ceanothus.
On May 1, moisture levels in the Santa Clarita/Castaic area averaged 146 percent. Critical level is considered 60 percent. Another factor they watch is the change in level – i.e., how quickly it dries out and becomes an even greater fire danger – and they observed the sagebrush in Bitter Canyon dropped 42 percent of its moisture, prompting a little closer observation and caution in the area.
To prepare for wildfires in our area, property owners should comply with brush clearance regulations. A video and list of vendors that can assist with brush clearance is available here  .
For emergency preparedness information and some tips on what to take if you have to evacuate, here’s information from the City of Santa Clarita:
Southern California is prime for another major fire disaster, due to a persistent drought, urban sprawl of communities encroaching into areas of wildland, and millions of acres of vegetation that have not burned in many years. Preparedness is the key to surviving wildland fires.
- Follow all local building, fire, and hazard abatement codes.
- Install non-flammable screens with mesh one-half inch or less on chimneys.
- Keep roofs and rain gutters free of needles, leaves, or other debris.
- Enclose the underside of balconies and decks with fire-resistant material, such as aluminum decking.
- Enclose all roof eaves with fire resistant material, such as aluminum or steel, and place metal mesh over all attic or roof vents.
- Inspect and maintain chimneys and screens twice annually.
- Install a smoke detector on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms, and test them monthly.
- Clear the brush away from your home (a minimum of 30 feet - 200 feet).
- Trim all trees and tree branches away from electrical lines and chimneys. (Use a professional to trim near utilities and power lines.)
- Remove weak, dead, and leaning trees and bark beetle infested trees.
- Stack firewood at least 30 feet away from your home or other structures.
- Store all combustible or flammable liquids in approved storage containers.
- Locate all propane tanks at least 30 feet from any structure.
- Ensure that your street is clearly marked and posted.
- Insure your house numbers are clearly visible, both day and night, from the street.
- Know at least two exit routes from your neighborhood in case of emergency.
- Make sure large emergency vehicles can access your property.
Plan for Evacuation:
- Develop and practice a home evacuation plan. Your plan should include:
- A floor plan with all escape routes.
- Easily accessible exits for young children, seniors, and persons with disabilities. (Locate their rooms as close to exits as possible.)
- A list of valuables to take in an emergency. (Store them together in one location, if possible.)
- Identify the most important papers to take if you have to leave, such as insurance policies, medical records, and driver’s license.
- Take medications and eyeglasses.
- A place to reunite after evacuation
- The location of animal shelters or other sites that house pets.
- Practice drills
Work with neighbors to assist:
- People with special needs.
- People who need transportation to other sites.
Work with local emergency officials to identify:
- Several routes out of your neighborhood.
- Likely evacuation sites or safe refuge areas.
When Wildfire Approaches:
- Listen to the radio or watch television for instructions.
- Evacuate as soon as directed by public safety officials or when danger is perceived.
- Park your vehicles facing the direction of escape with windows rolled up.
- Place your disaster kit and evacuation kit along with valuables and other essentials in your vehicle.
- Secure pets and livestock, and prepare them for evacuation.
- Leave your electricity on and leave inside lights on.
- If time permits, cover up by wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, goggles, cap, and bandana. 100% cotton is preferable.
- Close doors behind you when evacuating to slow down the flames, smoke, and heat.
- Help young children, seniors, and persons with disabilities to evacuate safely.