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Red Flag WarningFire Department

What is a Red Flag Warning?

A Red Flag Warning is a forecast warning issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) to inform area firefighting and land management agencies that conditions are heightened for wildland fire ignition and rapid fire propagation.

When humidity is very low, and especially when high or erratic winds which may include lightning are a factor, the Red Flag Warning becomes a critical statement for firefighting agencies. Local fire agencies often increase their staffing and equipment resources to accommodate the forecast risk.

To the public, a Red Flag Warning means high fire danger with increased probability of a quickly spreading vegetation fire in the area within 24 hours.

Weather criteria for fire weather watches and red flag warnings are based on the local vegetation type, topography, and weather parameters such as relative humidity, wind and temperature. They usually include the daily vegetation moisture content calculations, expected afternoon high temperature, afternoon minimum relative humidity and daytime wind speed.


A separate but less imminent forecast may include a Fire Weather Watch, which is issued to alert fire, land management agencies, and the public to the possibility that Red Flag conditions may exist beyond the first forecast period (12 hours). The watch is issued generally 12 to 48 hours in advance of the expected conditions, but can be issued up to 72 hours in advance if the NWS agency is reasonably confident. The term “Fire Weather Watch” is headlined in the routine forecast and issued as a product. That watch then remains in effect until it expires, is canceled, or upgraded to a Red Flag Warning.

Santa Barbara County fire agencies initiate the Santa Barbara County Red Flag Warning Plan when notified by the NWS. It can be initiated in all areas of the County or only specific zones as defined by the Plan. There are 5 specific zones within SB County.

Why does Santa Barbara County have a Red Flag Warning Plan?

Public notification/alert of potential fire danger is very important. Santa Barbara County has an extensive history of catastrophic wildfires. Because of this fire history fire agencies work in cooperation with the National Weather Service to predict the weather conditions that increase fire risk. The Red Flag Warning Plan provides a means for preparing for heightened wildfire situations.

Within Santa Barbara County a Red Flag Warning can also be initiated when local fire fighting resources have been depleted or if unusual circumstances exist that make fire suppression more difficult.

What happens when a Red Flag Warning is initiated?

• A symbolic red flag is raised at affected fire stations and in the Riviera and Eucalyptus Hill neighborhoods.
• Local media is advised and information is updated regularly.
• Santa Barbara City, Public Work places signs in key locations within the high fire hazard area.
• Any burn permits are cancelled, and all burning is banned.
• Fire agencies increase patrols in high fire hazard areas and increase the number of fire response personnel.
• Other agencies, such as Public Works. Parks and Law Enforcement are notified and may initiate additional  protection measures.
• Under extreme conditions Park events may be closed and fire closures may be issued on public lands and roadways.
• When a Red Flag Warning is no longer in affect it is officially’ Cancelled’ and notifications are made.

What should I do during a Red Flag Warning?

• Review your Personal Wildfire Action Plan with your entire household and practice it regularly. Refer to the Ready, Set, Go pamphlet.
• Have a minimum of two routes in which to evacuate out of your area.
• Have an out of state emergency contact incase local phone service is interrupted
• Have a portable Disaster Kit ready to take with you if you are asked to evacuate. It should contain all of
your important paperwork, required medications and other valuables
• Keep up to date through local media. Do not call 911.
• Stop any activities that have the potential to start a fire (camp fires, mowing, chain-sawing).
• Collect pets and have them so you can quickly load them in the event you must evacuate.
• Have your driver’s license with proof of residence on you, in case of road closures.
• Move any vehicles parked on narrow roads completely off the street to help facilitate an evacuation if needed.
• Park in your driveway facing out to keep roads accessible to emergency equipment.
• Consider and be prepared for early evacuation, especially if you have people in your family with mobility issues
or young children.
• Communicate with neighbors to make them aware of the increase fire and safety risk.
• Be aware of suspicious vehicles or people. Write down information. Do not call 911.
• Remember
A RED FLAG WARNING MEANS TO BE PREPARED, NOT PANIC.

For more information contact the City of Santa Barbara, Fire Department at 805-965-5254.

Last Updated: Sep 23, 2014