Our Story

On June 27, 1990 a wildfire started near the intersection of Highway 154 and Painted Cave Road. When it was all said and done the Painted Cave Fire had burned 5,000 acres, destroyed 427 buildings and killed one civilian while she was trying to flee the wind driven fire along San Marcos Pass Road. The following year the East Bay Hills fires near Oakland, California killed 25 people, destroyed 2,843 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium units. These fires caused fire officials across the state to reassess their communities’ risk of wildland fire.

In 1996, Montecito Fire Chief Herb McElwee introduced several local individuals to a group in Sacramento that was creating a funding mechanism for wildfire hazard reduction and education to assist local groups statewide. The overall objective was to strengthen the bond between the fire services and the private sector through community organizations statewide. Chief McElwee felt residential community leaders had information which was important for fire authorities to hear and the government had the resources to expedite funding for dealing with the ongoing threat of wildfire in the wildland urban interface areas of Santa Barbara County. And so, in 1997, the Santa Barbara Fire Safe Council was born with the same mission it has today; to promote wildfire safety throughout Santa Barbara County through education and action.

What We Do

PROVIDE EDUCATION AND PROMOTE COMMUNICATION

The Fire Safe Council meets once a month at the Office of Emergency Management in Goleta. Every other meeting includes a presentation from an expert on local issues such as fire ecology, fire behavior, vegetation management, habitat restoration, infrastructure improvement, weather services, and emergency planning. The goal of the meetings are to provide relevant information to the local citizens and offer a platform for community members to become part of the solutions to the challenges fire poses to our wildland urban areas.

SUPPORT COMMUNITY EMERGENCY PLANNING

Fire Safe Councils have always been successful in receiving funding through state and local grants. Recently, the council has focused a large portion of our funds towards the creation of Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP’s). CWPPs represent the best opportunity to address the challenges of the wildland urban interface in a way that brings about comprehensive and locally supported solutions. Through grant funding and leadership, the Santa Barbara Fire Safe Council assisted with the development of the Eastern Goleta Valley/San Marcos Pass CWPP in 2018 and in 2020 received funding for the Gaviota Coast CWPP.

CREATE FIRE ADAPTIVE COMMUNITIES THROUGH MITIGATION ACTIONS

The Fire Safe Council offers residents an avenue to learn from professionals on how best to mitigate the threats of wildfire to their individual properties. These avenues include the “walk and talk” program where local fire officials walk neighborhoods with residents to identify vulnerabilities and recommend mitigation actions. These recommendations include “hardening” methods to the structures themselves, ways to increase individual defensible space zones, and opportunities for community level fuel breaks. The Fire Safe Council will help neighborhoods coordinate community chipping days as well as guide them through the process to become a recognized FireWise USA site.

Who We Are

JOHN AHLMAN - PRESIDENT

John is a retired City of Santa Barbara Battalion Chief. He was born and raised in Santa Barbara attending all local schools and began his firefighting career In 1965. After a season with the Los Padres National Forest Hotshot crew he was drafted for the Vietnam War. Upon his return he resumed his career with the U S Forest Service. Later, he worked for Montecito Fire Protection District and then moved on to the City of Santa Barbara Fire Department where he retired after thirty five years of service. John has been a member of the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council since 2010.

TED ADAMS - VICE PRESIDENT
Ted moved to the Painted Cave area from Coyote Road above Montecito not long after the 1964 Coyote Fire. Soon after the move he became involved in community administration as a Director of the Painted Cave Mutual Water Company. In 1977, Ted organized the Wildland Residents Association including the neighborhoods of the mountain communities of San Marcos Pass. In 1997, he became a director for the newly formed Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council and has remained involved ever since. Today, he continues to work promoting community cooperation and disaster preparedness through these organizations and a weekly radio program on AM1290 which he co-hosts on disaster preparedness. Ted has been a part of the Fire Safe Council since its conception in 1997.
NIC ElMQUIST - SECRETARY
While attending UC Santa Barbara, Nic Elmquist began his career as a seasonal wildland firefighter for the Sequoia National Forest in the summer of 2000. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies he gained a permanent appointment with the Forest Service in 2002. He returned to the central coast in 2007 as a Captain for the Arroyo Grande Hotshots on the Los Padres National Forest. While with the Forest Service, Nic worked on many of the notable local fires and held positions in both the fire and ecosystem management programs. In 2018, Nic accepted his current position as a Wildland Fire Specialist for the Montecito Fire Department. His work entails developing partnerships with District residents and neighboring jurisdictions to mitigate wildfire hazards and reducing risk within our local communities. Nic is a Fire Behavior Analyst for California Incident Management Team 15 and assists with instruction at the National Advanced Fire and Resource Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Nic was elected to the Fire Safe Council Board as its Secretary in 2018.
KEVIN VARGA - TREASURER

Kevin grew up outside of Pittsburgh, PA. He joined the Marine Corps after high school and was stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA. During his five year enlistment, he served one tour in Afghanistan. Afterward, Kevin went to college at Colgate University in upstate NY. While there, he spent four years in the Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department and Fountain Fire Company #1. He majored in geology and geography, which allowed him to study and do fieldwork in Ecuador, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and the Galapagos Islands. Upon graduation, Kevin worked as a wildland firefighter on an engine crew out of Eureka, NV. This experience helped him realize how much help the American West needed in terms of dealing with wildfire and drought. He decided his next big goal would be to attend graduate school. Before doing so, he spent time as a zero waste coordinator, handyman, brewery server, substitute teacher, and Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. After applying to a handful of schools across the west, Kevin was accepted by UCSB into the Geography Department to study wildfire weather and ecology. He currently works with Charles Jones and Leila Carvalho on projects that identify vulnerable wildfire areas and model wildfire spread. Kevin was selected as Treasurer for the Fire Safe Council in 2020.

RAY SMITH

Ray Smith Ph.D, is Professor Emeritus, retired from the University of California Santa Barbara. He has an S.B. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1956) and a PhD in Physics from Stanford University (1961). After retirement he has devoted considerable time as a volunteer for the Mission Canyon Association, a homeowners association in southern Santa Barbara covering 1,122 acres with roughly 1,200 homes. The initial goal of the MCA (formed in 1948) was to “secure adequate fire protection” and improving fire safety within the canyon has been a continuing concern. As its president, Ray led MCA to work with County Fire to write the Mission Canyon Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) which was approved by the County Board of Supervisors in July 2011. Ray currently serves as the Chair of MCA’s fire committee and was elected to the Fire Safe Council Board in 2010.

ROB HAZARD
Chief Hazard began his fire service career in 1988 with the U.S. Forest Service working on the Los Padres Hotshot Crew. He was hired as a firefighter with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department in 1998, promoted to Engineer/Inspector in 2002, Fire Captain in 2006 and Battalion Chief/Deputy Fire Marshal in 2016. Chief Hazard was a lead academy instructor for Wildland Firefighting and a member of the SBCFD Wildland Steering Committee. He has represented SBCFD on multiple teams and committees including the USFS Region 5 California Incident Management Team 7 and is currently a member of the local Type 3 Incident Management Team (XSB IMT3). He also is a Board Member of the FIRESCOPE Predictive Services Specialist Group. Chief Hazard is a 5th generation Santa Barbara native. Chief Hazard currently holds the rank of Division Chief and is assigned as the County Fire Marshal. Chief Hazard was elected to the Fire Safe Council Board in 2014.
MAX MORITZ
Max Mortiz, Ph.D, is an adjunct professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a statewide wildfire specialist within UC Cooperative Extension. Much of his research is focused on understanding the dynamics of fire regimes at relatively broad scales and applying this information to planning and management of fire-prone landscapes. He has used a number of different spatial approaches to quantitative analyses of fire history patterns, stemming from his early work on chaparral shrublands in the Santa Barbara region. Max was elected to the Santa Barbara Fire Safe Council Board in 2012.
PHIL SEYMOUR

Phil Seymour is a retired attorney with 32 years of practice in environmental and land use law.  After graduating UCSB in 1974 and before graduating law school, Phil served for 10 years as a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, including five years on the Ojai Hotshots, one year on the Tanbark Helishot crew on the Angeles National Forest, and three years as the first crew boss for the Sundowner contract crew.  Phil has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council for four years, and served as the appointed SBCFSC representative on the Development Team for the San Marcos Pass/Eastern Goleta Valley Mountainous Area Community Wildfire Protection Plan.  He is also currently active with the Wildland Residents Association, the animal rescue organization Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter (BUNS), and with the Mountain Ember Team in his home community of Painted Cave. 

PAUL VAN LEER

Paul has been a Ranch and Farm manager for over 36 years. He has been both a farm bureau director and past president. He also spent years as a Gav-Pac committee member to help craft the Gaviota Coast Plan, and is an active member of the County Agriculture Advisory Committee. In his current position as the manager of Las Varas Ranch, he has had three major wildfires threaten his ranch in 2008, 2016, and 2017. He has always been proactive in protecting the ranch, its livestock, and crops, through building and maintaining fire breaks, staging a dozer, and has firefighting equipment at the ready during the season. He has managed and resided on the Las Varas Ranch on the Gaviota Coast for the last 21 years. Paul was elected to the Fire Safe Council Board in 2018.

JOAN HARTMANN
Joan Hartmann, Ph.D., J.D. has been serving as a Santa Barbara County supervisor representing the 3rd District since 2017. Before that, she served for three years as the Third District County planning commissioner. The 3rd District stretches from Isla Vista to Guadalupe, including the Gaviota Coast, Burton Mesa communities and the Santa Ynez Valley. Her policy priorities include transitioning to renewable energy; promoting community wellness through parks, trails, and bicycle infrastructure; and developing greater community resilience to withstand emergency conditions. Joan began her career in the academic world, serving as Director of the Public Policy Program at the Claremont Graduate School; Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Government at Oberlin College; and later as adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at USC. She has also worked for several federal government agencies including the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. EPA, Region 3. She helped found the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, a novel public-private partnership to restore coastal Southern California wetlands and watersheds. She spearheaded the Buellton Urban Growth Boundary initiative which requires a vote of the people before the City can expand its boundaries, the first such initiative in Santa Barbara County. She also advised the Goodland Coalition which successfully campaigned for a similar initiative in Goleta. Joan has lived in Santa Barbara County part-time since 1999 and full-time since 2004. She served for six years as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in foster care. She also served on the Wildling Museum’s Board of Directors, the Fund for Santa Barbara’s Grant Making Committee, and the Santa Barbara Foundation’s LEAF Advisory Committee. Supervisor Hartmann was elected to the Fire Safe Council Board in 2019.
JOHN POWELL
John Abraham Powell, known as “Abe” to his friends, was born in Stanford, California and raised in Santa Barbara. Abe graduated from Santa Barbara High School in 1987 and attended Vassar College, graduating in 1993 with a BA in Philosophy. He worked at Skate One Corporation until 2000, when he founded Solforce, a solar energy company, which he ran for 17 years. On January 28th, 2018 Abe, his wife Jessica Powell, PhD and three friends co-founded the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade to coordinate a community response to the disastrous Montecito debris flow of January 9th. Since that time, over 3000 volunteers have shown up to help dig the community out and to build resilience in Santa Barbara County. Abe has served as President of Get Oil Out and the Mountain Drive Community Association as well as being a Mountain Drive volunteer firefighter. Abe currently serves as the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, is a Director of the Montecito Fire Protection District and is a Trustee at the Santa Barbara Middle School. Abe was elected to the Fire Safe Council Board in 2019.
ROLF LARSEN

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CHRIS SMITH

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Our Mission is to Promote Wildfire
Safety in Santa Barbara County
through Education and Action.

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