Fire safety in the summer sun: Camping and fire danger

  • Published
  • By Tim Johnston
  • 30th Civil Engineer Squadron fire inspector
Summer is here and that means barbecues, lemonades by the pool, and camping trips. It also means increasing awareness of summer fire hazards. This summer doing all the things that make the season so fun means doing them safely.


The fire department recommends people use a flame-retardant tent, and always pitch it away from a campfire. Inside the tent, use only battery-powered lanterns or flash lights. Don't use liquid fueled heaters or lanterns inside a tent or any other enclosed space. This is not only a fire hazard, but a carbon monoxide hazard as well.

When building a campfire, locate it down-wind of the tent, clearing away all dry vegetation and digging a pit surrounded by rocks. Before going to bed or leaving the campsite, pour water on the fire or cover it with dirt.

The State of California declared June 1 the start of fire season, so look for signs in national forests or campgrounds that warn of potential fire hazards and always obey park service rules.

Fire Danger Rating System

The National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDR) is used to determine the fire danger rating. It is a complex system of calculating the numerous variables of the weather and its affect on wild land fuels as well as how the fire will react to those variables. The fire danger rating signs on Vandenberg will reflect this. In more simple terms, the signs will reflect LOW during the winter rainy months when the wild land fuels will not readily burn, MODERATE as those fuels dry out and the grasses start to tan. HIGH fire danger is the norm at Vandenberg throughout fire season when fires are easily started and spread rapidly. When all the variables are right for a fire to spread and quickly surpass initial attack efforts of the Fire Department, such as the warm Santa Ana winds, the fire danger signs will indicate EXTREME.

The Santa Barbara County Red Flag Alert Plan is an additional measure used to warn the public of extreme conditions. The plan is used for upgrading public awareness, when hazardous wildfire conditions occur and/or fires in neighboring counties have reduced the region's total emergency response forces. This plan is activated in four stages. During the first stage a WATCH is activated when the weather forecast is indicating hazardous wildfire conditions. The next stage is a WARNING, implemented when the above-mentioned situations are present. Another stage that may be activated is the ALERT, used when extreme conditions are present. Fire closures may be invoked on all public and private lands including certain public roadways throughout the county. Finally, CANCELLATION occurs as the weather and/or the suppression resource situation changes.

These public awareness measures have been adopted because of the continued devastation caused by wild land fires. The devastation of these fires was evident on the Painted Cave Fire in 1990, which destroyed more than 600 homes in Santa Barbara City. Even Vandenberg has had to deal with this issue, as in 1977 when a 10,000 acre fire swept across South Vandenberg and claimed the lives of the base commander, fire chief, assistant fire chief and a dozer operator. More recently was the Harris Fire, which threatened numerous homes in the east housing area. Fortunately none were lost.

For further information concerning summer time fire safety or the fire danger rating system, call the Vandenberg Fire Prevention Office at 606-4680.