Fire officials are warning that the dry grasslands and timber left from a winter that saw very little rain and snow could spark a busy and dangerous fire season in California.
“Despite a rainy March, this year’s overall precipitation is below average,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, Cal Fire director. “As a result of the dry winter, the number of wildfires that Cal Fire firefighters have responded to is nearly three times that of last year.”
From January to April, Cal Fire crews responded to over 800 wildfires, nearly two and half times the number in 2011 when there were approximately 300. This year’s number of wildfires is above the five-year average as well, where the average is over 600 wildfires.
In Stanislaus County, firefighters from the various agencies have been undergoing specialized wildfire training to help them prepare for the grassfires that seem to ignite every year along the highway and roadways.
“The fuel dried out sooner this year and has the temperature rises we could see more fires than usual,” said Keyes Fire Protection District spokesperson Raj Singh.
Most grassfires are caused by a lit cigarette being flicked from a vehicle, Singh said.
“It doesn’t take much for it to smolder and ignite,” he said. “From there it’s very easy for it to spread into the open fields and toward homes.”
Motorists should avoid pulling off the road into patches of dry grass because it’s easy for the vehicle’s heat to ignite the dry grass, Singh said.
Cal Fire is reminding residents to take precautions to protect their home and property by maintaining a defensible space around it.
“Before we get into the peak of fire season, residents should prepare themselves, their families and their homes for wildfires,” Pimlott said. “Defensible space and fire resistant building materials really gives a home the best chance of surviving a wildfire.”
A defensible space can be created by placing plants, trees and shrubs far enough apart so that they prevent the fire from spreading. All dead grass, plants and weeds should be cleared away from at least 30 feet from the house.