Santa Barbara Breathes Easier as Firefighters Gain Ground on Cave Fire


California Wildfires

Residents pick up N95 masks on Tuesday at the Goleta Valley Community Center. Direct Relief provided over 43,000 masks to the public during times of compromised air quality during the Cave Fire. (Amarica Rafanelli/ Direct Relief)

The community of Santa Barbara breathed a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday, when firefighters gained ground on containment of the Cave Fire burning in the hills above the town. Rains have started in the region, and are expected to continue in the coming days, aiding firefighting efforts. As of Wednesday, no structures had been lost and no injuries were reported.

The fire, which broke out late Monday afternoon in the steep terrain above Santa Barbara, charred over 4,300 acres, denuding large swaths of hillside. Air quality in the region was compromised as a result, raising health concerns for residents, particularly older adults, young children and those with breathing conditions or compromised immune systems.

In response, Direct Relief provided more than 43,000 N95 masks to the public, including from the organization’s headquarters. A steady stream of residents stopped by Direct Relief throughout the day Tuesday to pick up masks, and staff were also present at distribution locations in Goleta and Santa Barbara, in coordination with local agencies.

Direct Relief staff distributed thousands of N95 masks on Wednesday. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)
Direct Relief staff distributed thousands of N95 masks on Tuesday. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

At one distribution location, the Goleta Valley Community Center, Direct Relief staff distributed hundreds of masks to members of the public, including those with respiratory issues, like asthma or reduced lung capacity, as well as to staff caring for patients at a nearby senior living center, and many families with young children. Direct Relief also provided 300 inhalers by request to the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics for distribution among their medical sites.

Direct Relief maintains a strategic emergency stockpile with medications and supplies that are often specifically requested during a wildfire, including a standing inventory of N95 masks, oxygen concentrators, respiratory medications like inhalers and nebulizers, and other supplies. That inventory is made available to healthcare organizations and coordinating public health agencies responding to the emergency.

To track and respond effectively to future blazes, the organization maintains a California wildfire map that updates automatically based on satellite data, along with a social vulnerability map, which highlights fire-prone California communities with high numbers of disabled, older, and economically disadvantaged residents.

Santa Barbara, where Direct Relief has been located for more than 70 years, is no stranger to wildfires, including the 2017 Thomas Fire, one of the largest fires in state history. With a heightened fire season expanding throughout the year, Direct Relief is ready to offer to support to the immediate community and those impacted by fires across California.

Additional reporting provided by Talya Meyers.

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