Many homes in the moneyed hills of Montecito, California, and other communities along the southern Santa Barbara County coast are lined with lush ornamental vegetation. While the shrubbery is intended to increase privacy, it is also posing a fire risk.
Firefighters have been able to keep the flames from the Thomas fire out of the major population centers along the coast, but the heavy vegetation, narrow winding roads, steep terrain and homes in close proximity to each other make for a dangerous situation.
The city of Santa Barbara bans certain types of vegetation from high fire-hazard areas, including cypress, eucalyptus, juniper and pine. Montecito, which is in unincorporated Santa Barbara County, does not have such restrictions.
The 2016 city plan notes that while Montecito is an “idyllic and highly desirable place to live and visit, the residents often overlook the fact that the area is highly prone to large wildfires.”
The massive value of the homes in the area is not lost on firefighters. “I don't know where you would find more value at risk,” said Andrew Madsen, a Los Padres National Forest public affairs officer.