‘Bumper crop’ of fire fuels produced by increased rainfall

‘Bumper crop’ of fire fuels produced by increased rainfall

16 June 2006

published by www.capitalpress.info


California — The intensity of California’s wildland fire season this year is unpredictable, but the state’s emergency response units are ready for anything.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced the beginning of fire season in the south state, June 5 and the north state, June 12.

“What that means is we start upgrading our staffing,” said CDF Public Education and Information Officer Jesse Estrada.

Fire preparedness levels increase when weather in a particular area becomes warm and dry, and vegetation moisture levels are low. Dry vegetation is fuel for fires. Fuel moisture determines a fire’s behavior and varies with the type of vegetation and elevation.

“We always prepare for a big wildland fire season,” but overall it is unpredictable, Estrada said.

Increased staffing is focused on areas experiencing high winds or lightning. Having received their annual servicing at McClelland Air Force Base in Sacramento, CDF’s air tankers are standing by at their bases throughout the state, fire fighting crews are ready 24/7 and emergency response dispatch levels have increased, Estrada said. The CDF responds to fires and emergencies year-round, but preparedness levels can change at any time depending on weather patterns.

In January 2005, a new law went into effect requiring homeowners to clear 100 feet of defensible space around homes and structures in areas under CDF jurisdiction. A prior law required only 30 feet of clearance. Fire officials say the first 30 feet of clearance is critical in reducing flammable vegetation near homes, which includes trimming trees at least 10 feet from chimneys.

Fuel reduction in the additional 70 feet includes trimming lower tree limbs to reduce a vertical fire ladder, and spacing shrubs and trees. Property owners can make the fire fuel clearance 100 feet from structures or to the property line, whichever come first, said Estrada. It’s also important to clear gutters and roofs of debris, he said.

“One hundred feet gives us more of a fighting chance,” said CDF Fire Prevention Specialist Karen Guillemin, who covers Madera, Mariposa and Merced counties. “Thirty feet barely gave enough room to park a fire engine.”

CDF oversees fire prevention on more than 1.2 million acres in the three counties.

Property owners need to be careful clearing fire fuels because mowers and weed eaters can start fires if they are not properly maintained, Guillemin said. She suggested using equipment before 10 a.m., during the cool part of the day, to avoid a spark that could ignite a fire.

“The rains were a blessing for California, but they also produced a bumper crop of grass. If a fire starts in that grass, it can spread very quickly,” Guillemin said. Grasses are between three and five feet high in some areas, which can fuel a very strong fire, especially if it moves into a brush area, she said.

“Historically, California has the potential to burn every year,” Guillemin said. In drier years, fire season is declared in March or April.

“But in California that’s our tornado or hurricane – wildfire,” she said. “It all depends on how careful the public is.” Guillemin urges the public to not park in grassy areas because a fire can start from the extreme heat created by the car’s undercarriage, maintain the 100-foot clearance and put out camp fires.

Livestock and pet owners need to plan ahead and be prepared to evacuate their animals in case of a fire, she advised.

CDF livestock evacuation tips include:

• Clearing fire fuels around barns and pastures;

• Knowing where to take your evacuated animals ahead of time. Contact local fairgrounds, stockyards and equestrian centers;

• Planning more than one evacuation route and have a trailer ready and available;

• Bringing proof of ownership, vaccination and medical records;

• Bringing disaster preparedness kit that includes hay, feed and water for three days, non-nylon leads and halters, first aid items, wire cutters and a sharp knife, hoof pick, leg wraps, shovel, water buckets, plastic trash barrel and lid, radio, flashlights and extra batteries;

• If you must leave your animals, put them in a predesignated, cleared area with enough hay for 48 to 72 hours. Don’t rely on automatic watering systems.

CDF’s Humboldt-Del Norte fire unit will increase to maximum fire season staffing levels by July 3.

“We all respond statewide,” said CDF Humboldt-Del Norte Fire Prevention Specialist Cricket Baird in Fortuna. “If there’s a big fire down in Los Angeles, we all go, depending on the size of it and the resources needed.”

North Coast counties should expect a suspension of seasonal burn permits as ground fuels dry out and the area is more susceptible to fire, and logging tool and clearance requirements are in effect, Baird said.

For information on wildfire prevention and protecting homes from wildfires, consult the CDF website atwww.fire.ca.gov


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