Dry conditions create tinderbox conditions in California

100 feet of defensible space is needed, fire officials say
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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There have been over three times as many wildfires in California this year from January through the second week of April than there were last year, Cal Fire reports. With November through February being some of the driest months in history, Cal Fire and other local fire officials say conditions are ripe for wildfires, but there are steps residents can take to protect their home going into summer. Daniel Berlant, department information officer for Cal Fire, said Cal Fire and the National Guard have already joined together to train for the coming fire season. “We have already seen an increase in fire activity. Even in our area we have had a couple of small wildfires, 2 to 3 acres, which is very unusual for late winter-early spring,” Berlant said. “Statewide I think we are three times above normal and about two times above average over the past five years.” This year there have been 679 fires so far, while last year there were 210 fires by this time. Berlant said most fire activity is usually in Southern California, but so far there have been fires spread throughout the state. In February, there was a 200-acre fire in the Napa Valley. The five -year average has been 410 fires from January through the second week of April. He said even with the higher rain levels in March, water content is still 55 percent of normal. With $80 million of its operating budget cut by the state legislature, Cal Fire has “dramatically reduced” its administrative costs and hired about 700 less seasonal firefighters last year, than it did in 2010, Berlant said. The $115 to $150 fire fee residents in rural areas will soon pay will help supplement some of the cuts, he said. As Cal Fire gets ready to hire seasonal firefighters going into summer, Berlant said creating defensible space around their homes is one step residents should take to prepare for the summer fire season. That means clearing weeds, tall grass, leaves and other fire fuels within a 100-foot perimeter around a home and cutting tree limbs up to six feet from the ground. “We have seen fire after fire after fire where the homes that have created the defensible space are ones that have a significant chance of still standing when the fire moves on,” Berlant said. Mark D’Ambrogi, Auburn City Fire chief, said creating defensible space is not only prudent, but the law. D’Ambrogi said it is important to maintain that defensible space through the fire season. “What we have experienced in the past is it may take more than one time to do, but it is the property owner’s responsibility to maintain that,” D’Ambrogi said. To prepare for fire season the city focuses on its weed abatement program, he said. Jay Love, battalion chief of the Newcastle Fire Protection District, said residents should also remember to make sure if they are planning on having a burn pile to make sure it is a burn day in their city, have 10 feet of space around the fire and a water source. “It will help us to defend their home,” he said. Berlant said just as fire crews begin their training for the summer fire season, residents need to raise their defenses, too. “We are doing a good job of jumping on these fires early, but it’s not normal in wintertime to have this level of fire activity. The weather conditions are all pointing to a potentially busy season for us and it’s why we are preparing for the season,” Berlant said. “It even emphasizes even more why homeowners need to be prepared as well.” Reach Sara Seyydin at, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News. _______________________________________________________ For more information on how to protect your home from a wildfire, visit Cal Fire’s informational website