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Jesusita Fire Final Reflections
updated: May 22, 2009, 12:00 AM

Thoughts From the Garden of Ed

Jesusita Fire Final Reflections
by Billy Goodnick


I'm looking for an app for my iPhone that will allow me to hack into someone's old elementary school records and have their diploma revoked. I'd be willing to pay $0.99, maybe twice that. The object of my revocation would be the author of the opinion piece in Sunday's News-Press Voices section. It left me shaking my head in stunned amazement.

Apparently, the writer proposes how we could have prevented the Jesusita fire if only we had hi-tech towers installed all over the chaparral. These sophisticated detection devices would instantly see any movement and somehow tip off authorities before the fire got out of hand. This should be easily implemented because "we live in the 21st century."

Well, that ought to take care of it. No price tag cited. No mention of what happens when crews are dispatched to arrest a quail moving in the bushes.

Preventing the initial source of ignition for any wildfire is a worthy goal, but I'm not sure that technology is the answer. I'd rather we put our efforts into education and preparation.

I will steer clear of my beliefs about whether people should even be allowed to live in the midst of ecosystems whose lifecycles involve sending up 50' towers of flame from time to time, then regenerating. In my equation, the allure of nature and the illusion of solitude don't counter the risk.

I offer few thoughts and resources regarding Santa Barbara's relationship with fire.

Defensible space

If you live in an area likely to be in the path of a fire, you have to give your home and the responders a fighting chance. Your first job is to minimize the possibility of a fire reaching your home in the first place, applying the principles of Firewise landscaping.

There's lots of information available through local fire agencies, as well as the Firescape Demonstration Garden at Mission Ridge and Stanwood Drive. I've blogged about the subject at Edhat and recently at my new blog at Fine Gardening Magazine. There are also four episodes of Owen Dell's and my Garden Wise Guys TV show that were filmed at the Firescape Garden.

Your second job is to give firefighters an opportunity to save your house and not just drive by muttering about your lack of preparedness. If your house doesn't look defensible, they may very quickly go looking for one that is.

Water conservation

I worked a graveyard shift at the City's Emergency Operation Center during the peak of the conflagration but had time to talk with someone at the Public Works desk. It's their responsibility to make sure there's water in the system for hoses and trucks. With pressurized landscape irrigation lines bursting from the intense heat, work crews (not emergency responders) had to go in and shut down the big leaks to assure that the hydrants were operating.

I'd like to think that everyone understands that water for their landscaping is a lower priority than protecting our community. So even if there isn't a fire blazing again this summer, how about making the most of every drop around your home? I can think of no better starting place than visiting SBWater.org's landscaping section at their great website.


In the days after the fire, once most of us were feeling a tenuous sense of normalcy, I realized that the next potential disaster would be the clean-up. Ash and grit everywhere: on Biff the Wonder Spaniel and on counter tops, cars, plants and patios.

Most people's first response is to reach for the hose and wash the ash away. Well, there is no such place as “away.” In this case, unless your dirty surfaces drain directly into a planter, “away” is the gutter, which eventually run to our creeks. The potash, phosphorus and trace minerals found in ash act as fertilizer in the creeks, upsetting the pH of the water, encouraging algae blooms and clouding the water for the inhabitants. Bad idea; read on.

The most heinous response was the attack of the back-pack blowers. I'm astounded at the lack of knowledge or sheer disregard for the impacts of airborne ash. It's an extreme health risk to many people. I include skin irritation, asthma and other bronchial conditions. If you or your gardener figured “just this once”, I'm sorry, but we all have to breathe the same air.

Here's a blog I posted in December 2007 describing one approach. Another great source of “best management practices” is this PDF file from the County of Santa Barbara.

Help for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

I'd be remiss if I didn't pass along a tragic bit of horticultural news. This is, after all, a column about gardens. Our very own Santa Barbara Botanic Garden was hard hit by the Jesusita fire. Though the iconic meadow and the main buildings and library were spared, the garden was hard hit. I'm less concerned about the plants. Some are likely rare and irreplaceable, many will grow back in time. Perhaps the greatest immediate losses are the tools and equipment that were consumed in the blaze. All power and hand tools, lost. Trucks, biofuel-powered work carts, gone. The new tractor is useless.

They need money, not your spare tools. They need professional-grade, specialized equipment you can't pick up at the local hardware shop. If you'd like to throw a few dollars or a check with a lot of zeros their way, here's a link to get you started.

One last bit of fire-related info. My dear friend and amazing documentary filmmaker, Jennie Reinish (Tidepool Pictures) is screening her new film, Behind the Lines: Fighting a Wildland Fire on Saturday, June 6. The venue will be more fun than I can comprehend. They're using the parking lot at Samy's Camera (614 Chapala) to project the movie on the wall. Bring a folding chair and come at 7 PM to hear Dreamtime Continuum perform. The film starts at dark and your $5.00 donation goes to the United Way recovery fund for those affected by the fire (but you can give more, really).

Come say "hi" if you see me at Samy's. I hope this article helps some of you.

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Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.


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