California is bracing for a serious wildfire season. The west coast U.S. state is in its fourth year of severe drought, and firefighters are getting ready and local officials are urging the public to help.
There have already been major wildfires, like the so-called Lake Fire, now burning in the mountains east of Los Angeles, and the Saddle Fire in Northern California, which burned more than 600 hectares before it was contained.
Regional fire officials in southern California say this fire season, which usually starts in June, got started early and is going to be harsh.
“This is the fourth year of an ongoing drought, so we are really concerned about the amount of dead vegetation in our area,” said Daryl Osby, chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department as he joined regional fire officials at a news briefing.
The area has received just enough light rain recently to encourage the growth of small brush and grass, which has dried to create potential fuel for fires, says Robert Garcia of the U.S. Forest Service.
“The grasses, the pine needles, the really light fine vegetation,” he said.
California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci says the dry conditions make fire volatile.
“And so fires have the ability to start very fast and spread very rapidly, and get out of control very fast,” he said.
Firefighters train continuously and say they respond to fire outbreaks in a matter of minutes. But much of the region has homes close to wilderness areas, and homeowners need to stay alert and keep brush cleared from their property, says Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen.
“We are well trained. We are prepared. We are staffing up," he said. "We are going to augment staffing on high fire danger days. But really the key is a prepared community. They are our partners.”
He says that most importantly residents must follow evacuation orders, which not all of them do. These officials say the fires will come, but that through working together, firefighters and the community can minimize the damage.