40 homes outside of Santa Barbara were evacuated recently due to a wildfire in the Painted Cave area of the region. The fire burned over 40 acres and was responsible for an injury to one of the hundreds of emergency personnel fighting the blaze. As of Thursday, October 18, residents had been allowed to return to their homes. The Painted Cave area is a rugged region 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Though no serious injuries or property damages were reported, the state is still under grave threat of more wildfires even as cooler and more humid fall weather conditions are on the way.
The Painted Cave residents may have avoided catastrophe for now but the region is far from immune to the threat of devastating fire. In 1990 a fire in the area burned 550 homes and was responsible for the death of one person. Insurance claims were in the millions of dollars as a result of the fire damage and related burn injuries. The threat of fire still lingers in the state even as cooler temperatures are predicted. An ongoing drought and an extremely warm summer mean that the risk for fire will continue to lurk deep into the fall and, perhaps, beyond. In Southern California, the inevitable Santa Ana winds will only exacerbate the threat in October and throughout the rest of the year.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, out of the twenty most destructive fires in California over the last several decades, nine of them have occurred in the month of October (http://www.fire.ca.gov/). Even before this destructive month, CAL FIRE had responded to more than 5,300 wildfires; that is almost 20% above average.
Though Southern California’s mid-October heat wave may be ending, the dry conditions fostered by such heat will contribute to the ongoing threat of fires. With already dry conditions throughout California, the Painted Cave fire may be a fairly benign reminder of the dangers yet to come.