California's Brutal Wildfire Season Starts Early
Federal officials plan to announce today (April 29) the start to the annual fire season on federal lands in California.
Today’s declaration will not result in fire restrictions, but rather, “It means we’re manned up for the fire season,” with extra firefighters and equipment at fire stations protecting these federal lands and nearby private land during the driest times of the year, said Cody Norris, a spokesman for the Sequoia National Forest.
The first four months of 2013 are shaping up to be among the driest first four months ever recorded in the Valley, the Visalia Times-Delton reported.
The dry conditions here likely will result in this year’s fire restrictions on federal lands being imposed earlier than normal, said Norris and Denise Alonzo, a National Park Service spokeswoman.
And California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) officials agree that the fire threat already is high.
“Our firefighters have responded to an increased number of wildfires due to the very little rainfall we have received over the past few months,” Chief Ken Pimlott, Cal Fire’s director, said in a written statement.
Firefighters from the state agency have responded to about 680 wildfires so far this year, about 200 more than the average for this time of year.
“Last week in Southern California, we increased our staffing and moved our airtankers to their bases, which was needed as we saw several large wildfires over the weekend,” Pimlott’s statement continued.
“Obviously, we’re ahead of schedule, and the hills are getting browner every day,” said Aldo Gonzalez, a captain with Cal Fire’s Tulare County unit.
He estimated that Tulare County’s foothills normally wouldn’t be this dry for another three to five weeks into the year.
And it’s not just dry in the foothill areas.
“We’ve already had several fires start since April 1,” a total of 28 over 23 days, said Tulare County Fire Battalion Chief Mike Green.
Some were in the foothill areas, but many were on the Valley floor, which included a brush fire about three weeks ago that burned 300 acres near Alpaugh.
That fire was touched off by a spark from power tools used to repair train tracks in the area.
“Right now, in my travels out and about in the county, I see the grass is dead and very dry,” Green said, adding that county firefighters have been visiting properties since April 15 ordering owners to cut down dry grass and remove debris to reduce the risks of fire damage.
As for the national parks, BLM and Forest Service lands, even though added fire restrictions aren’t in place for them yet, visitors need to obtain permits to light campfires or use portable stoves and barbecues.
Those permits are free and can be obtained at any Park Service, Forest Service, BLM or Cal Fire office.