Creating a Wildfire Protection Plan for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, for which Dudek created a wildfire protection plan

A wildfire protection plan developed for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (Garden) improves safety for Garden workers, visitors and neighbors, and offers a safer area for firefighters to stage equipment in the event of a blaze.

The 78-acre Garden is located in a high-fire-hazard zone with homes up-canyon and on one primary roadway. The new wildfire protection plan was developed as part of a revised permit approved by the County of Santa Barbara for the Garden to add approximately 20,000 square feet of research, education, and administration buildings.

“The canyon will be safer as a result of the Garden’s building project than it was without it,” said Mike Huff, Dudek’s Urban Forestry practice manager and the plan’s author. Huff worked with the Garden, County personnel, and local fire officials in developing the plan.

Wildfire Protection Plan Elements

The key elements of the wildfire protection plan include the following strategies.

Early Evacuation and On-Site Shelter

Early evacuation during a wildfire is the plan’s primary goal. To aid evacuation:

  • Brush will be cleared along the roads beyond the distance required by code
  • Stand-by shuttle buses will be required when Garden events exceed 80 attendees; and
  • Garden driveways will be improved to aid traffic circulation and firefighter access.

Garden personnel will also be trained to work with first responders during an evacuation.

Should conditions prevent an evacuation, the wildfire protection plan outlines that on-site designated shelters will be built to highly ignition-resistant standards and equipped with special ember-resistant vents, customized air handling systems, interior sprinklers, communication upgrades and wider fuel modification zones.

Sheltering on site is commonly confused with other sheltering policies, such as Australia’s stay-and-defend program.

“Australia’s 2009 wildfire tragedy resulted from a ‘stay-and-defend’ strategy,” Huff said. “The Garden’s shelter-in-place plan is very different. The Garden’s wildfire protection plan stresses early evacuation and includes a temporary on-site sheltering component as a safety net for anyone unable to evacuate.”

Visitor Caps and Weather Monitoring

As part of the permit conditions, the county capped the number of annual and on-site visitors with a lower cap during the peak May-to-November fire season. Trained fire safety-watch personnel will be required during fire weather watch conditions. The Garden will be closed to visitors when the National Weather Service issues “red flag” warnings. The Garden will also install a remote automated weather station (RAWS) to feed critical fire weather information into the statewide data exchange.

Firefighting Infrastructure

As part of the wildfire protection plan, nine commercial fire hydrants will be installed throughout the grounds, a larger pipeline will be added to increase water flow, and a cul-de-sac will serve as a helipad that “dip tank” helicopters can use to replenish water buckets for aerial drops. “The extra brush clearance and additional infrastructure will give firefighters a more secure mid-canyon staging area,” Huff said.

For more information on creating a wildfire protection plan, contact Urban Forestry Practice Leader Mike Huff, RCA.