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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.

# # # #

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


# # # #

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 28667 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-05-22 07:53 AM

Billy: is it just me, or did you forget to put those links in?


 REMARKER agree helpful negative off topic

2009-05-22 08:40 AM

What can we do? One of the largest landscape/yard maintenance companies in Santa Barbara (shall I name names?) is using both copious amounts of water and "back-pack blowers" to clean up around one of the largest condo groups (shall I name names?).


 REMARKER agree helpful negative off topic

2009-05-22 08:44 AM

Mesa Girl: The links are at the bottom of the article.


 EDONE agree helpful negative off topic

2009-05-22 09:17 AM

There are links throughout the article. They got lost for a bit. Now they are back


 COMMENT 28679 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-05-22 10:35 AM

I still don't understand how insurance won't cover the lost equipment at the Botanic Garden. It was all insured - right???


 COMMENT 28688 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-05-22 02:21 PM

Name names! How else can there be pressure to get these companies to stop? It's up to the companies to instruct their workers.

Great article, but it is hard to consider donating anything to the SBBG so long as the administration is so highly paid.


 COMMENT 28689 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-05-22 03:03 PM

What does Goodnick suggets we do...get on our hands and knees with damp paper towels and sop up the soot?

You can't sweep it. It just sticks to the cracks in the concrete. And if you sweep with gusto, aren't you blowing it into the air just as bad as a blower?

I think washing it down is the lesser of the available evils. If it is washed down (using a minimal amount of water), then when the inevitable winds kick up again, there will be less soot to fly everywhere.

Not to mention that I won't have to clean my carpet every two weeks.

The notion that we will be in danger when our creeks will be fouled by potash is silly. Wait for the first rain. That will add more potash to the creeks than having 100,000 people wash down their driveways. And may I add that this is a natural occurrance.


 COMMENT 28701 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-05-22 09:39 PM

I agree with Bird. we immediately received emails (more than 1) from SBBG right after we returned from evacuating asking for money. Surely there's insurance. Surely there are people who need assistance more. I am surely sick of hearing of all their intrigues and am now sick of their whining!


 COMMENT 28762 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-05-24 12:15 PM

Good article Billy. Thanks.

As a compromise on the ash clean-up issue, how about shutting down auto irrigation and use the wash-down water instead. I tried sweeping, but my kids and dog just track the ash into the house. Now I have to get the carpets cleaned.

As for the Remarkers comment, the largest landscape company that I work with makes a big effort to keep their equipment in top shape and procure the greenist/low decibel models available. They even obey the law in SB regarding electric blowers, obtaining permits to trim trees and alter landscapes. Hey they even carry the proper insurance and train their staff.


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