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Santa Barbara County Supervisors update on wildfire prevention efforts; Lake Fire expands to 29,987 acres, 16% contained | Local News

Santa Barbara County Supervisors update on wildfire prevention efforts; Lake Fire expands to 29,987 acres, 16% contained | Local News

As the Lake Fire becomes the largest wildfire in California, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors was updated this week on steps being taken to reduce the risk of fire outbreak and spread.

The cause of the lake fire is still under investigation, but it broke out near Lake Zaca around 3 p.m. Friday and had spread to 29,987 acres by Wednesday morning, with only 16% of containment and evacuation warning zones extended to the outskirts of Los Olivos.

But given that the county has experienced numerous large wildfires in the past, County Fire and the nonprofit County Fire Safe Council are working with funding from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to prevent such fires from starting, control their spread and raise public awareness of the danger, according to a report to the agency.

County Fire Marshal Fred Tan outlined some of the major projects County Fire is undertaking with state funding from Cal Fire and California Climate Investments, including a $2.2 million grant for the Lompoc Valley Fuel Reduction Project.

The county fire department cleared overgrown areas and vegetation along the roads where most of the county’s wildfires have broken out in the past and created new or expanded existing firebreaks.

Another $3 million grant is pending for the second phase of fuel reduction in the Lompoc Valley area, Tan said.

With the help of a $6.7 million grant, County Fire in the Tepusquet Canyon area implemented similar fuel reduction efforts, treating more than 700 acres of land in a high fire danger area.

Tan said the county fire department also received $1.25 million in direct funding for wildfire risk reduction, a public wood chipping program, and public education on keeping cleared, defensible areas around homes and general fire hazard awareness.

County Fire also conducted controlled burns in the Spaulding-Midland area south of Alamo Pintado Creek and at Bar M Ranch, also involving manual removal of vegetation.

In addition, vegetation was removed from several areas scattered over 117 acres in the San Antonio Creek area and on the southern slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains near El Capitan State Beach and immediately east of Highway 154.

Working closely with the county fire, the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council has promoted fire safety and helped educate the public since its founding in 1997, says Anne-Marie Parkinson, its executive director.

Parkinson said until 2021, the council consisted of an all-volunteer board, received about $300,000 from three grants and worked on about three projects.

Since then, the Council has grown its staff to six full-time employees and three seasonal interns, received ten grants totaling $10.3 million, and launched eleven programs and seven projects.

Its activities included a chipping program for 1,400 households in the south county that removed more than 1,500 tons of vegetation, including along roads. There are plans to expand the program to the north county in 2025.

The county’s grazing program has introduced goats to reduce vegetation on over 450 acres in the south of the county, and plans to expand the program to the north of the county next year.

Eleven low-income households have been assisted in creating defensible space around their homes, and another 70 to 90 homes are slated for the program.

The council currently supports low-income residents with cost-effective renovations to their homes, such as replacing ventilation vents.

Parkinson said one of the council’s most successful programs was the formation of 14 focus groups to examine the barriers low-income communities face in preparing for wildfires and surviving their impacts.

Four follow-up workshops were held and information was shared with various agencies, she said.

Other Council activities include creating a comprehensive wildfire education program and conducting four major public education events, including a recent live and online workshop on wildfire evacuation and survival.

The council has also assessed more than 200 homes for wildfire safety and developed 16 Firewise communities with 1,665 homes and 3,761 people.