Thursday, May 07, 2009

California’s Wildfire Season Begins

SANTA BARBARA, CA. (May 7, 2009) -- California’s 2009 wildfire season has begun, with Mother Nature taking her first shot at Santa Barbara. The residents and firefighters along the “American Riviera” find themselves doing battle once again with wind-swept flames and dense smoke.

Named the Jesusita Fire, flames are quickly surrounding Santa Barabara, which just last November experienced the Tea Fire, which consumed more than 200 homes. In mid summer of 2008, the Gap Fire threatened thousands of homes, while burning nearly 10,000 acres

According to the Santa Barbara Independent, 70 fire engines from 14 strike teams were fighting the fire, including squads that were stationed at individual homes. The County of Santa Barbara said that another 20 strike teams had already been requested. The flames were within a mile of the closest structure and officials feared that massive power outages might occur.

Dry, off shore winds were whipping the flames up canyons and hillsides and a definable firefront developed within hours of the first calls to 911 operators.

Jesusita Fire Map

“The wind is unpredictable right now.” said Battalion Chief Pat McElroy. “Our biggest concern is a shift to down canyon winds, which would move the fire toward the city.”

McElroy added that statewide mass mutual aid had already been requested.
Even with winds gusting to 50mph, three were quickly helicopters were placed in service and air tankers were making their way to the scene.

On Wednesday evening, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara City and County. The emergency declaration placed 20 more strike teams totaling about 1,300 firefighters on the road to Santa Barbara.
Overnight, Three Ventura County firefighters were burned fighting the blaze, according to Capt. Ron Oatman of the Ventura County Fire Department. He said they were injured while attempting to protect structures. Their injuries were first and second degree burns and the firefighters were transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment.

As of 0630 on May 7th, 500 acres had already been consumed, with fire officials indicating 0% containment. A Red Flag warning was in place as early morning wind gusts of 50mph pushed the blaze into neighborhoods. According to KSBY-DT, A Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department spokesman says more than 5,400 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders. Nearly 14,000 people are estimated to live in those homes.


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