Dry vegetation causes increased fire hazards throughout California

Samantha P. Hawthorne
Staff Writer

Although summer has passed and fire season is technically over, record dry conditions throughout California and bordering states have literally added fuel to the fire, making it critical that residents remain mindful of potential fire hazards.

“We have not had much of a winter this year and the fire hazard right now is what it was like in September (2013),” said Peninsula Fire Protection District Fire Chief Gary Pini.

Plumas National Forest Public Information Officer Lee Anne Schramel said, “We are very much expecting an early start to the 2014 fire season; it is likely to last longer and could be more severe if we continue to have such hot and dry conditions. There have been more and more human-caused fires so it is up to everyone to exercise much more care.”

She said residents should make sure to manage their defensible space, stay on marked roads rather than driving off-road and build campfires only where permitted.

Although controlled burning is generally permitted during this time of year, dry conditions and high winds are causing some areas in Plumas County to be designated as no-burn days. On Jan. 23 — a day with nearly 30-mile-per-hour winds — a controlled burn in Indian Valley quickly escalated into an uncontrolled burn. The day was marked as a no-burn day but the rancher failed to confirm this and soon he required help from local firefighters to put out his fire.

According to the Plumas National Forest website, escaped debris from controlled burns are the No. 1 cause of local, manmade fires. “Don’t burn when conditions are dry and windy. Fires burn easily during these conditions — even in Fall/Winter/Spring,” stated the website.

Pini said, “It is open burning right now but everyone needs to be extra careful while burning due to the (fact that the) fire can escape very easy.”

He recommended several steps residents can take to help keep the flames at bay.

He said: Do not leave burn piles unattended and make sure the fire is totally out when leaving your fire.

Do not clean pine needles off the roof while there is a fire in the fireplace — an ember could escape from the flu, land on the needles and start a roof fire.

Do not remove the spark arrestor from the chimney flu unless it is to clean it, which should be done periodically. 

Report any unidentified sources of smoke to the local fire department — “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Pini.

Adding to this, Plumas County Fire Prevention Specialist Sue McCourt highlighted the following tips:

“Residents should take extra precaution during this exceedingly dry period to ensure they are maintaining their 100-foot defensible space. A fire started at the right time and right place, especially on a windy day, could easily be carried through surface fuels like pine needles, dry weeds and smaller forest debris directly to your structure.

“Start raking and work outward from your structure. Remember, it is the ‘little things’ that can be critically important. Little embers and the little things that little embers can ignite can easily ignite your house.

“Take this opportunity to look at your home and property like it is a hot summer day. Trim your tree branches at least 6 feet from the ground and clean out the dead materials from under spaced out plants.

“Many folks have moved their firewood close to their structures for easy access during winter. With these unusually dry conditions, homeowners are requested to evaluate their homes now like it is fire season. Could a fire that gets started carry into that firewood stored too close to your home? Firewood should be stored 30 inches from your home.

“Residents should use extreme caution in doing any dooryard burning. I would recommend not burning until we receive rain or snow. Cover your piles so they will be ready to burn when conditions warrant.”

For specific information on local area requirements and burn safety information, contact the local fire department.

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