Santa Barbara Firefighting Costs Top $54 Million

Santa Barbara Firefighting Costs Top $54 Million

7 August 2007

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California, USA — The giant Zaca Fire in Santa Barbara County devoured 2,000 more acres today, although at least 2,370 firefighters are doing battle with the month-old blaze.

The fire started on July 4 when a laborer on a private ranch north of Los Olivos was grinding on an iron pipeline. Sparks from his grinder started the fire, which has now spread far to the southeast and covers 71,300 acres about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The laborer, whose name has not been released, will be handed a bill for the cost of fighting the Zaca Fire, which now amounts to $54.6 million, says Robert Rainwater, a fire information officer with the Los Padres National Forest.

“This high cost indicates that we are using the aircraft a lot. The land in there is steep, rugged, rocky, very inaccessible,” he said. “It could take a couple of hours just to walk a crew in.”

About 650,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest is closed for visitor safety and to prevent campers from starting other fires, said Rainwater.

The Zaca Fire is eating through chaparral, oak, conifer woodland and brush on both public and private land, threatening 453 homes.

Evacuations were ordered Friday by the Santa Ynez River, and earlier last week in the Peachtree area. These areas are still closed as fire crews do burnouts and cut fire lines to control the blaze.

Santa Barbara Fire Chief John Scherrei said fire managers are “taking opportunities where we can to attack the fire’s edge directly with hand crews and using air tankers and helicopters where it is too unsafe to directly insert our firefighters.”

“Our tactics have been successful so far at corralling the fire’s path and keeping it directed into the Los Padres National Forest and away from our populated areas,” says Scherrei.

“There is still danger, though, and great potential for the fire to change course toward populated areas due to the normal summer weather conditions – erratic mountain winds, high heat and low relative humidity,” he says. “The ingredients add up to a stubborn fire that exhibits extreme burning conditions.”

“They are making tradeoffs,” said Rainwater. “They are choosing to focus all of our resources on the south side of the fire – the populated area near the coast – and letting it burn more freely into the wilderness area. We don’t have the resources to do both.”

The fire is 68 percent contained, but fire officials estimate it will not be completely contained until September 7.

A veteran of 16 years on firefighting crews, Rainwater says that date is “just a wild guess,” and the weather will determine the fate of the fire.

There will be few if any wildlife casualties, Rainwater said. “In all my years of fighting fires, I never once saw a dead mammal or any wildlife,” he says. “Animals are well able to protect themselves and get out of the way.”

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