According to statistics by CAL FIRE, the state’s department of forestry and fire protection, the 5-year-average number of fires from January 1 until March 8 is set at 223. The year 2013 only showed a slightly above average fire activity of 223 fires in this this time range even though it is considered a dry year. During the same interval, the triple amount of the average, 665 fires, has been recorded for 2014. While recent dimensions of these fires destroyed 773 acres on average within the 2 months’ time frame, 1,388 acres were burned this year’s.
-Photo by Terry Miller
CAL FIRE also stated that “already this year [the department] has responded to nearly 300 wildfires that have charred over 700 acres. In a normal year the department only responds to about 50 fires that all together would char a little over 100 acres.”
Due to the unusual emergency state of drought during the winter months, declared by Governor Jerry Brown in January, officials predict a disastrous fire season. The recent weekend of rainfall has not improved the current drought conditions.
CAL FIRE director, Ken Pimlott, noted: “We can’t recall when we have seen this level of fire activity early in this year. This is usually the time of year when much of the state is greening up. We haven’t even got into the months that historically are the worst in California – late August, September and October – so that’s a big red flag right there.”
John Laird, the secretary for natural resources adds to this premonition: “This is going to be a fire season outside of any normal bounds. Anything could happen at any time.”
California’s drought crisis calls for high alertness and additional precautions for potential wildfires. Gov. Brown’s drought State of Emergency not only asked residents to conserve water, but also directed CAL FIRE to “hire additional seasonal firefighters to suppress wildfires and take other needed actions to protect public safety during this time of elevated fire risk.”
CAL FIRE announced that it has “hired 125 supplemental firefighters in Northern California and extended seasonal firefighting forces in Southern California due to dry winter conditions.”
Pimlott said: “We have increased our personnel and now we need the public to make sure they, too, are prepared for early fire season conditions.”
Since many of the fires are sparked by powered agricultural equipment, residents are asked to only use their machines in the lower temperatures of the early morning and completely refrain from using them when it’s hot, dry and windy, especially on Red Flag Warning days. Instead of burning landscape debris outside, residents are also asked to take them to a green waste facility. Furthermore, CAL FIRE advises residents to clear dead weeds and vegetation, and remove leaves and needles from gutters.
For the third year in a row, California has additionally enacted a Fire Prevention fee within the State Responsibility Area. $152.33 per habitable structure will help California prevent and suppress wildfires in areas where the state is financially responsible.
By Jennifer Schlueter