It’s only the middle of May, but a long and potentially severe fire season may have already begun in the state of California.
Earlier this month, a 40-square-mile fire burned north of Los Angeles. Closer to home, two fires burned in Tehama and Butte counties.
The Panther Fire in Tehama County scorched 7,000 acres and required nearly 2,000 personnel and $7 million to get it under control. The smoky skies covering the Almanor Basin were a scary reminder of the Chips Fire that ravaged the area just eight months ago.
Recent rains have been a blessing, but the reality is our forests are extremely dry for this time of year — and likely to become much dryer by summer. In short: Fire season is here.
Things are so bad, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection issued statewide warnings for “extreme fire danger” two weeks ago, as a dry winter, warm conditions and high winds have created model wildfire conditions.
“The grass, brush and trees are very volatile. They’re ready to burn,” CalFire Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson told the Los Angeles Times. “Everything is just very dry. And not just in Southern California, statewide.”
The agency has responded to more than 680 wildfires so far this year, 200 more than the average for the period. Low rainfall levels from January to April could create one of the driest years on record in California, according to a survey by the Department of Water Resources.
To make things even worse, this year’s snow pack is only 52 percent of the statewide average.
Plumas County residents will remember last summer when it seemed as if we were surrounded by several wildfires that raged out of control for weeks. As the conditions worsen this year and the fire danger increases, now is the time for homeowners to take steps to prepare their property should the nightmare of a wildfire arrive at their doorstep.
The U.S. Fire Administration recommends homeowners design and landscape their homes with wildfire safety in mind by using fire-resistant or noncombustible materials on the roof and exterior surface of their homes or treating combustible materials with fire-retardant chemicals.
Homeowners are also advised to create a 30- to 100-foot safety zone around their home. Within this area, they can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Clear all flammable vegetation. Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures. Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
Remove dead branches that extend over the roof. Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet. Remove vines from the walls of the home, and mow grass regularly.
Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue. Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home. Clear all combustible material within 20 feet of your home.
Remember, when a wildfire strikes, an ounce of prevention is more effective than a pound of cure — and it involves far less risk and cost.