| California firefighters are bracing for wildfire season already underway


By Matthew Renda, Courthouse News Service

(CN) – A consortium of fire chiefs from the greater Los Angeles area met on Friday at the County Fire Department’s fire camp just north of Pasadena to discuss the fire season imminent.

“Imminent” is actually the wrong modifier, as officials say the 2021 fire season has already arrived in California, mostly due to a glaring lack of precipitation over the past winter.

“The stockade fire started in May, which was unprecedented but is now the norm,” said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby.

The fire started on May 14 in Topanga State Park, near the city of Santa Monica, and burned until the end of May, causing evacuations and charring approximately 1,300 acres before to be restrained.

Although the damage was minimal and only one firefighter was injured, the blaze has opened our eyes as it occurred at a time of year when there is usually enough humidity for the fires forest have difficulty in triggering.

“We are now seeing conditions that we typically wouldn’t see until August or September,” Osby said on Friday. “We received 40% of the expected precipitation in the region, which is obviously troubling to us first responders.”

California has been ravaged by drought, with a third of the state in the worst category according to the last report by the US Drought Monitor. The entire state is classified by the federal agency as having at least one moderate drought.

As the Golden State enters the dry summer months, firefighters are bracing for what could be a heavy spell until the rains return in November.

“We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed as fall approaches with the Santa Ana winds,” Osby said, referring to the hot, dry winds that plague southern California from fall. They have always been a major source of fire in the region.

While recent fire news has focused on northern California, where the campfire and fires in the wine country were among the deadliest and most devastating fires in California history and of the United States, Southern California has also been the hardest hit by increased fire activity in recent years.

The Thomas Fire burned down Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in 2017, creating what at the time was the largest fire by area in state history. The last few fire seasons have been so bad that the fires now rank seventh. Five of the 6 largest fires in California history occurred last year, with the largest burning over a million acres.

“We’re already ahead of last year’s numbers in terms of the number of acres and the number of fires that have burned,” Osby said.

However, firefighters have also been touting their preparation for the upcoming season, expressing cautious optimism that an increase in manpower and the addition of more tools will help firefighters respond to fires in moments.

“From an aviation perspective, we have a lot more capabilities than in the past,” said Brian Fennessy, head of the Orange County Fire Authority, who also attended the press conference.

Blackhawk helicopters and fixed-wing craft capable of discharging flame retardants onto rapidly spreading flames have been added to the fleet of firefighting aircraft in the Los Angeles area, Fennessy said.

“This will allow us to fight these fires very, very quickly,” he said.

Glenn Barley, unit manager at Cal Fire, also said numbers were already at an all-time high, representing a commitment by California officials to respond quickly to the developing fire season.

“We were recruited earlier than normal this year,” he said.


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