Ryan Chartrand

Fires seem to be the theme of the season, evident by the normally beige hills behind campus that were charred black last week after illegal fireworks started the 50-acre blaze. A particularly dry rainy season during which San Luis Obispo received less than 10 inches of rain has made fire safety a top agenda item in the county.

Locally, fire officials facing a busy summer focus on educating residents about fire safety and prevention. Fire Marshal Jim Tringham says, “The biggest thing is to make sure the smoke detector is working.” Tringham recalls the past three recent house fires he has responded to, all of which involved “some good citizens to wake people up, since they didn’t have working smoke detectors.”

Psychology senior Jenny Howell recalls her first write-up on campus because she had an unlit candle in her dorm.

“I received a written report and had to meet with the community adviser and watch a ridiculous video and write a response paper on it.” Howell is not alone in her frustration of being written up, but she is conscious of a fire’s potential.

“My mom’s house burnt down in the middle of the night when she was little so I was always aware of the possibility of fire.” Howell maintains, however, “I had the candle because it was bright and pretty and matched my pillows.decorational purposes only.”

Tringham asks that students on campus abide by the no-candle rule and refrain from tampering with the fire alarms.

“We get false alarms all the time, and it keeps us from real emergencies,” said Tringham. Local residents should clear all brush from around their property at the beginning of the fire season, June 15.

Surrounding areas are also feeling the brunt of low rainfall and accidental wildfires. The Zaca Lake fire, located about 15 miles from Buellton off U.S. Highway 154, has continued to spread over the past week and has destroyed 8,200 acres.

According to Zaca Fire Information, the fire is moving east and away from residential areas, though the Figueroa Area Campgrounds are threatened. The cause is unknown, but presumed to be human activity. Cal Fire estimates full containment by July 22.

Farther north, a more devastating wildfire cost hundreds of residents their homes. The recent Angora fire struck west of South Lake Tahoe and destroyed 3,100 acres, 67 commercial structures and 242 residences last month.

The blaze took 16 days to control and cost the state more than $11 million. With fires consuming state resources, livelihoods and money, fire safety regulations are facing a revisal.

The governor has now involved himself in a call for fire safety, appearing at a press conference July 2 with California State Fire Marshal Kate Dargan.

“With consecutive days of high temperatures this week and Southern California seeing the driest conditions in more than a century, fire danger is extremely high all across the state,” Gov. Schwarzenegger said.

In May, the governor issued an order that the California Department of Fire and Forest Protection assemble extra forces and resources in preventing wildfires to California.

Cal Fire is also working on improving the current system of fire hazard maps, last updated in 1985. The topographical maps given to local fire chiefs are designed to warn about hazardous areas, mostly in urban areas. However, the series of wildfires this season has shifted more attention to forest fire prevention than the outdated maps.

In addition, expensive homes are more often located in woodland areas, removed from traditional urban neighborhoods, making wildfire prevention more of a life-saving strategy than before.

The new maps are estimated to be in action by January 2008, and they will use technology such as satellites, so the zoning is more geographically accurate.

Each county has a scheduled public hearing to make decisions about its local map. San Luis Obispo will hold one July 12 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the San Luis Obispo Vet’s Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

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