A wildfire that began on May 5 in Santa Barbara County, Calif. continues to burn, having burned 8,733 acres and destroyed 77 residences as of this morning, May 11, 2009, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. Sixty outbuildings were destroyed, 69 outbuildings have been damaged, and 22 residences have been damaged, with the fire being 65 percent contained as of.
Estimated costs of the fire as of May 11 were $9 million, NICC noted. The County of Santa Barbara declared a local emergency due to the fire, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency, meanwhile reminding Californians to be vigilant in preparations to protect their properties.
Sundowner winds — Santa Barbara’s equivalent of the better-known hot, dry Santa Ana Winds — were responsible for spreading the fire, as they whipped through the passes and canyons with gusts greater than 60 mph, according to AIR Worldwide. But firefighters reported the winds had died down, allowing them to make progress on suppression efforts.
“It is highly unusual to have such a destructive fire in Southern California in May,” Dr. Tomas Girnius, senior research scientist at AIR Worldwide. “The peak fire season — at least in terms of highly destructive fires — usually arrives in late fall. However, the region has been experiencing an ongoing drought, and precipitation during the last year has been about half its normal level. Similarly, the extreme Sundowner winds that have been exacerbating the situation also are an unexpected phenomenon for this time of year.”
Officials noted the Jesusita fire is especially close to November 2008’s Tea Fire, which destroyed more than 200 homes in Santa Barbara and Montecito. Estimates of that fire reached $632 million for residential properties because the average price per house in that area is $1.4 million, with the median estimated at $1.3 million.
“My heart goes out to the families who have lost their homes and all their belongings in this wildfire,” said Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. “I urge everyone who has been evacuated from their home to check their insurance policies. Many homeowners policies cover additional living expenses (ALE) incurred as a result of a mandatory evacuation. Coming up with extra money for hotel stays, extra food and other additional living costs are the last thing fire evacuees should have to worry about. Check your policy, and if you have any insurance questions, call the Department of Insurance at 800-927-HELP.”
State law requires that ALE coverage be provided for 24 months following a declared state of emergency such as the Jesusita Fire, according to the Insurance Information Network of California. ALE coverage typically includes extra food costs, increased housing costs, furniture rental, relocation and storage costs, telephone installation and extra transportation costs to and from school or work, after the deductible is reached, CDI said.
Meanwhile, fire investigators have confirmed the Jesusita fire origin is adjacent to the Jesusita Trail, commonly accessed from the San Roque or Tunnel Road areas. The fire cause appears related to the use of power tool equipment involved in vegetation clearance, NICC stated. Fire investigators are requesting public assistance with identification of the person or persons engaged in vegetation clearance on Monday, May 4, and Tuesday, May 5, 2009. The unidentified persons are known to have been on the trail between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on both days, according to NICC. Persons with information regarding those individuals should contact the Santa Barbara County Tip Line at 805-686-5061.
Sources: AIR Worldwide, CDI, NICC