Even in a region grimly accustomed to wildfires, the blazes throughout Southern and Northern California this October have been notable for the sheer number of incidents. From the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County to the Real, Saddleridge, Tick, Getty, Easy and Hillside fires, along with the most-recent Maria Fire in Santa Paula, crews in Santa Barbara, Ventura and LA counties have been on high alert and near-constant deployment. Firefighters from Carpinteria have also seen their share of action.
The season got off to a slow start for local firefighters with few incidents in the month of September. But the Real Fire on Oct. 17 near El Capitan on the Goleta coast brought in Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District personnel. As dangerous fire conditions developed through the month of October, a “Strike Team” consisting of a battalion chief and five engines with four personnel each from across Santa Barbara County was pre-positioned across the “front country” slope of the Santa Ynez Mountains along the South Coast of Santa Barbara County.
“We had a wet winter (last year),” explained Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Robert Kovach, “which promoted good growth” on hillsides and canyons. Combined with low humidity and Santa Ana winds of 40- to 60-mph, the “alignment is there,” the Chief said of the elements contributing to this year’s high number of fires. “Once something gets going,” Kovach added, “it runs.”
Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District firefighters on the Strike Team were deployed from their pre-positioning in the Santa Barbara “front country” to the Tick Fire in LA County on Oct. 24. En route, the crew caught and extinguished a brush fire in La Conchita which they humorously referred to as a “warm up.” From the Tick Fire, the 20 personnel and five engines drove directly to the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County on Oct. 27, and assisted with containment efforts there until their return to Santa Barbara County on Nov. 1.
Firefighters on Strike Team assignment often work 30 hours without sleep, as the demands of an incident dictate. Before being relieved, a Strike Team can spend up to 14 days on a fire (and sometimes 21 days), with two additional days of travel to and from an incident. “The most grueling part of Strike Team life,” shared Battalion Chief Michael Gallagher, “is the lack of sleep.” Continuing, Chief Gallagher added, “I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to the community—when people stop to tell us thank you, it means a lot.”
As of Monday evening, Nov. 4, the most-recent fire, the Maria Fire in Santa Paula, was near complete containment, but not before it had burned nearly 10,000 acres, including valuable lemon and avocado orchards. Kathy Hoxsie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, announced that Santa Ana winds will remain at bay for the next few days, but strong gusts are forecast to return to Southern California over the weekend of Nov. 9-10.