California, USA — With little rainfall this past year, the Redlands FireDepartment is preparing for a long and difficult fire season.
According to Redlands Fire Battalion Chief Jim Topoleski, for the past six orseven years the fire season in Southern California has been year-round and theFire Department has prepared accordingly.
“Our personnel train daily on strategy, tactics and safety as to how itrelates to wildland fires and wildland urban interface fires,” Topoleskisaid. “In the past month, Redlands Fire has responded to multiple requestsof assistance for wildland fires and wildland urban interface fires. In addition,Redlands Fire continues to respond to wildland or vegetation-type fires withinthe city limits. Thus, our preparedness has never ceased.
“However, due to the lack of winter rains, frost kill, and droughtstricken brush fields, our personnel have been instructed to expect theunexpected and to plan on fires burning in April as if they were occurring inSeptember and October.
“In short, take nothing for granted and plan for the worst.”
Last year, Redlands experienced more rainfall, causing more vegetation togrow.
“Last year we experienced some very extreme fire behavior. Much of whatdrove the fires last
year was an abundance of fuelsfrom the bumper crop of grasses and lighter fuels that came about after a coupleof average to above average rainfall years,” Topoleski said.
“In the lower elevations this provided the fuse to the powderkeg. In thehigher elevations and north aspects of slopes it provided for rapid growth inthe brush fields and timber. Now that we are in the grips of a drought, thosefuels that grew exponentially in the wet years are drought stricken and decadent.In addition, the cold snap that struck the citrus industry has effected theornamental vegetation surrounding homes, greenbelts and the brush fields. Thistoo has added to a plethora of available fuels to burn.”
Topoleski said the Esperanza Fire that burned parts of Cabazon in October isa glimpse of what firefighters in the area should expect this spring. The FireDepartment suggests that Redlands residents prepare for fire season by clearingbrush from their property.
“By clearing the brush and flammables from around your house by 30 feetwill only begin to give us a fighting chance at saving your home,”Topoleski said. “Thirty feet truly is nothing when you have 100-foot flamelengths bearing down on top of you.
“Sadly, year after year we lose homes, property, injure or at worst loselives in both civilians and firefighters because homeowners fail to clear ormaintain their property when they live in the wildland urban interface. Iunderstand that it can be unsightly not to have green vegetation surroundingyour home or you want to have privacy by planting rows of trees around yourhouse, but if you want to keep your home … then give firefighters a chance.”
The Redlands Fire Department began their annual weed abatement programrecently, asking residents to clear their property of weeds by May 1.
According to Assistant Fire Marshal Tim Marshburn, if weeds are notappropriately cleared by the deadline, a crew from the department will clearthem for a fee.
“Some people elect us to do it so they don’t have to,” Marshburnsaid.
Topoleski also suggested residents be prepared for evacuation.
“Have vital information stowed in such a manner that it can be retrievedin a moment’s notice to leave. The same goes for valuables,” Topoleski said.
The Fire Department is prepared to suppress fires with such tools as watertenders.
“To best meet the needs of the city, we purchased one water tender (fireapparatus with a 1,500 gallon water capacity and offroad capability) and a brushengine (fire apparatus with a 500-gallon water capacity and four-wheel drive).These apparatus were designed with the express intention of suppressing anddelivering water to a wildland fire incident rapidly, efficiently and safely,”Topoleski said.
“The majority of our fire apparatus fleet has been designed formunicipal type fire protection. Though we use these pieces of apparatus for manyother types of incidents, including but not limited to wildland fires, this wastheir main design purpose. So, with the two new units we can access difficultterrain to deliver a fire suppression crew and establish a water point for theapparatus and personnel to fight fires for extended periods of time. In addition,these units are considerably smaller than your typical fire engine and canmaneuver in tighter confines.”
The department has also hired many new firefighters after several retiredthis past year. Some of the firefighters are brand new to the field, whileothers came from places such as the U.S. Forestry Service.
“We brought on some real good seasoned firefighters,” Marshburnsaid.