A Fire Safe Haven

A Fire Safe Haven title=
UC Santa Barbara’s geography provides natural protection against wildfire. (Photo: Matt Perko)
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By Harrison Tasoff, UC Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara’s year-round sunshine and good weather make it an attractive tourist destination and a paradise for UC Santa Barbara’s campus community. However, the Southern Californian climate is inseparable with the cycle of wildfires that grip the state in late summer and early fall. Fortunately, the geography and meteorology of campus make it a safe haven from brush fires.

For a fire from the mountains to reach campus, it would require really strong winds. The blaze would have to spread all the way through Goleta and past, or around, the wetlands at the airport in order to make it to campus. “So, there are many barriers to overcome for a wildfire to reach campus,” said Professor Leila Carvalho, a meteorologist in the Geography Department who studies fire conditions in the Santa Barbara region.

UC Santa Barbara’s location provides a refuge from wildfires. The university protrudes into the ocean, which limits the direction from which a fire can approach. And the campus is flanked to the north by the airport and surrounding wetlands, not exactly a conduit for fire.

Wildfires in this region generally start in the mountains and inland valleys to the north and east. And flames have a harder time spreading through urban environments than wildlands, Carvalho explained. What’s more, on days with calm wind, fires tend to burn upslope, taking any potential blaze directly away from campus.

“We’re a lot less vulnerable than up in the mountains,” She said.

According to Carvalho, it would take pretty strong winds from the north for the campus to be in any sort of palpable danger from a wildfire. But even with sundowners — strong wind regimes similar to the Santa Anas — blowing a fire toward the coast, the flames would still need to traverse a large distance before threatening the university. All of Goleta lies in between a potential fire and the university itself. Campus is the very last point on a fires’ path before reaching the ocean.

What’s more, it’s difficult for a fire to transition into an urban area because the fuel regime is different, explained Professor Charles Jones, also a meteorologist in the geography department.

UC Santa Barbara’s microclimate also offers protection from wildfires. Given its location near the ocean, the university benefits from the sea breezes that blow from offshore. These bring cool, humid air to campus, and blow toward the mountains. The coast is also often visited by the morning fog from offshore, further cooling the area. The combined effects further shield campus from wildfire.

The campus architecture itself offers some protection from fire as well, noted UC Santa Barbara Adjunct Professor Max Moritz, one of the University of California’s wildfire specialists. Although the university was not specifically designed to be fire safe — like the Pepperdine or the Getty campuses — many of the buildings are naturally robust against fire. For instance, the campus’s familiar bespoke red cinder block is non-flammable.

No place in California is immune to wildfire. And the effects of smoke can travel far from their source, decreasing air quality dozens of miles away from a blaze. Nevertheless, UC Santa Barbara’s unique geography and weather afford it a measure of protection against wildfires that other locations don’t enjoy.


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Mesarats Oct 14, 2021 09:15 PM
A Fire Safe Haven

Nature is patient. The infrastructure in low, cliff, infill areas, ocean close,former estuary areas, road access will be taken by climate change erosion and water intrusion, the airport too.
Munger gave UCSB a ranch and windowless dorms. Perhaps moving the airport, restoring the tidal slough( that was navigable to the current 101) buffer would be a better long term solution.
If 1 rich gut can shoot Captain Kurt into to space in phallic tube, the other rich dude could probably restore a tidal buffer

holazola Oct 15, 2021 07:29 AM
A Fire Safe Haven

Move the airport to where?
That horse escaped the barn more than 80 years ago, and he ain't coming back.

SBSBSBSBSBsb Oct 15, 2021 08:06 AM
A Fire Safe Haven

Wow I never would have known UCSB isn’t affected by wildfires if I didn’t read this very riveting post. I always though UCSB was a prime target for wildfires.

a-1634319690 Oct 15, 2021 10:41 AM
A Fire Safe Haven

The campus community may be somewhat safer from wildfires because of location. But it’s only a matter of time before that tinderbox called IV goes up from within. Severe overcrowding, illegal units not up to code, poorly maintained buildings , and unmaintained utility lines are a recipe for disaster. Perhaps that type of fire threat should be studied. When it happens I hope everyone has time to get to the safety of the campus! Perhaps UCSB should consider setting up Red Cross shelters for the next local fire victims?

bumblebee Oct 17, 2021 12:13 PM
A Fire Safe Haven

They forgot to mention the brush fire they had a few years back on West Campus. And then there was the huge braze that broke out at the campus housing that was under construction.
Hey, but who's counting if you have story to tell.

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