USA — Its only January, but CalFire/Napa County Fire is beginning to staff up as if it were summer.
Hills are brown instead of winter green. Woodlands are tinder dry from a token amount of rain over the past 12 months. Ranchers are having to feed their cattle extra hay because, as south Napa rancher Ailene Tarap explained, There is nothing growing.
CalFire/Napa County firefighters put themselves on high alert this week as the temperatures are expected to reach the 70s in Napa, adding to the fire threat created from record low rains in 2013.
CalFire announced plans to rehire 125 seasonal firefighters in the northern region, which stretches from Monterey to the Oregon border, including three in the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit.
I havent seen these sort of conditions in January, said CalFire/Napa County Fire Capt. Amy Head, who has worked for CalFire for 17 years.
In the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit, the seasonal firefighters, who usually work up to nine months a year during the fire season, would help staff an extra engine at the Santa Rosa Station.
Normally, the station is closed for the winter. The fire season ended Dec. 8 in the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit. But because of exceptional winter fire conditions, it was reopened this week.
CalFire is in the process of assessing the projected duration of the dry conditions and working with the administration on a plan to sustain readiness by hiring additional personnel if needed. And that plan includes hiring 125 firefighters to staff 25 additional engines, Head said.
CalFire is now maintaining an air tanker and an air tactical unit in Chico, aircraft that are not normally staffed during the winter months. Also, two helicopters, including the one based on Boggs Mountain, are staffed this winter in the northern region and at least two inmate crews from Delta Camp in Sonoma County and Konocti in Lake County remain available. Usually one crew remains available on weekends during the winter months, said Assistant Fire Chief Linda Green.
There is no telling how long the seasonal firefighters will remain on duty as no rain is expected in the near future. We dont have any predicted rainfall anywhere in sight, Head said Tuesday.
In all, the unit has 67 firefighters in Napa County. Year-round fire stations are in St. Helena, Greenwood Ranch, Yountville, Spanish Flat and Napa.