•In the state’s fourth year of drought, wildfires in California are already more than double the average, year-to-date
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•Fire officials provided residents with tips to staying safe this fire season during a news conference at Millerton Lake
Firefighters and community leaders gathered Wednesday afternoon before a depleted Millerton Lake to warn residents that severe drought conditions have again made forests and fields “ripe” for fast-moving wildfires.
“For four years, we’ve had such limited precipitation that the vegetation is critically, critically dry,” Ken Pimlott, director and chief of Cal Fire, said during a news conference.
Pimlott said California has already experienced more than 1,100 wildfires so far this year — more than double the average.
On Monday in Fresno County alone there were 11 wildfires fought by dozens of firefighters who utilized a slew of fire engines, aircraft and other equipment, said Fresno County Fire Chief Mark Johnson, who presides over the Cal Fire Fresno-Kings Unit.
In anticipation for this year’s wildfire season, Pimlott said Cal Fire staffed an unprecedented 70 engines statewide over the winter months compared to the 10 normally staffed in Southern California. Pimlott said California typically experiences more than 200 wildfires a week during the peak of fire season.
Firefighters urge residents to be vigilant in clearing brush and grass away from homes. Pimlott said 95% of wildfires are caused by people and can be prevented.
To learn more about how to protect your home from wildfire, visit ReadyForWildfire.org. A key to staying safe: Residents should have 100 feet of defensible space around their homes. The first 30 feet around a home is most critical and should be clear of dry vegetation, brush — and lawns.
Pimlott said Cal Fire no longer advocates for well-watered and maintained lawns as a perfect lush buffer to protect homes.
“We’re not doing lawns anymore,” Pimlott said. “We can’t afford in this state to water lawns when communities are barely having water for domestic supplies.”
And wildfires damage more than just homes and habitat, said Jim Branham, executive officer of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.
“The Rim fire of 2013 (in and around Yosemite National Park) and the King fire of last year (in El Dorado County) together released greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 3.1 million automobiles for a whole year — just two fires,” Branham said, adding that communities around the King fire experienced air quality as poor as what’s typical for Beijing, China.
Along with affecting recreation, Branham said these large fires also cause massive erosion, causing sediment to wash into reservoirs and reduce storage capacity
Gov. Jerry Brown declared this week “Wildfire Awareness Week” — as did the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Debbie Poochigian urged Fresno County residents to do everything in their power to “save their properties, save their homes and save lives.”
Chief Shawna Legarza, director of fire and aviation for the U.S. Forest Service Region 5, said that in working to prevent wildfires, there are three crucial “C’s” — communication, collaboration and coordination.
Pimlott said that for the second year in a row, the governor has provided significant additional resources to Cal Fire, including firefighters and two more large air tankers. Fire officials said they’ve also started earlier than normal with fire prevention education and surveying available water sources.
Cal Fire Southern Region Chief Dale Hutchinson said fire officials are also working diligently with community leaders to understand limitations to water systems so firefighters don’t significantly deplete a community’s source of water while trying to extinguish a fire.