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Fires grim reminder of drought danger



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May 21, 2014
Wildfires that swept through San Diego County last week were just the beginning of what Cal Fire officials are referring to as an extremely active fire season.

"Fire season really never ended last year in many parts of California," said Chief Ken Pimlott, Cal Fire director. "We continue to have very dry conditions and experience unusually early fire behavior that is extreme for this time of year."

Drought conditions, low humidity, and strong Santa Ana Winds created the perfect storm last week as nine fires broke out across the county. More than 27,000 acres and dozens of homes were lost as the fires raced through the hills in San Marcos, on Camp Pendleton, through Carlsbad, and across the hills along I-15 near Deer Springs Road.

While Valley Center was spared from any damage, the fires were a grim reminder of the dangers that exist due to the drought.

"The ongoing drought has increased the fire risk dramatically for our area," said Jim Courter, Community Emergency Response Team Coordinator for the Valley Center Fire Protection District. "The great amount of dead and dying vegetation would increase the severity of a fire tremendously and also increases the likelihood of a fire starting. The Santa Ana winds lower the humidity and increases the wind speed to a point where a fire could be driven through this dying vegetation."

According to the state's final snow survey on May 1, the statewide snowpack water content is only 18 percent of normal. Since January, Cal Fire has responded to over 1,200 wildfires, nearly triple the number of fires in the same time period in 2013 and more than double the average year for the same time period. The average is fewer than 600 wildfires according to a press release issued by the agency.

Cal Fire is reminding Californians that when it comes to wildfires, remember "Ready, Set, Go!" Being ready for a wildfire starts by maintaining 100 feet of defensible space and hardening homes with fire resistant building materials.

"With this year's drought it is absolutely critical that residents be prepared for wildfires by ensuring they have 100 feet of defensible space around their homes," said Pimlott in a press release issued May 4. "Most wildfires are preventable and we need residents and vacationers to be extra cautious outdoors because one less spark means one less wildfire."

Homeowners looking for additional information on how to prepare themselves, their families, and their homes for wildfire can visit www.ReadyForWildfire.org. The site offers tips for residents to make their homes more resistant to wildfires and to ensure that their families are ready to evacuate early and safely when a wildfire strikes.

Tips include removing all dead grass, plants, leaves and weeds from yards and rooftops, creating horizontal spacing between trees and shrubs, trimming trees regularly to keep a minimum 10 feet of space between them, removing vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks, and keeping lawn heights down to a maximum of four inches.

For more information on the Community Emergency Response Team for the Valley Center Fire Protection District or to volunteer call (760) 751-7600 or send an email to cert@vcfpd.org.

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