Cal Fire academy graduates latest class in final preparations for peak California fire season

Knowing that they're running out of time, firefighters are readying their seasonal employees for the battles that lay ahead on the wildfire lines.

Today was graduation day for some seasonal firefighters who, the next time they face flames, will be in for the real thing.

Cal Fire ended a two-week training academy today for returning seasonal firefighters of the Sonoma/Lake/Napa district.

They will be on the front lines of every wildfire in the district or anywhere else needed during what will be the driest, hottest months of the summer and fall.

They will also be dealing with new procedures and technologies from new field radios, to enhanced personal breathing systems with a new buddy breather accessory to a new, faster way to unload and set up hoses.

"So, they're all getting familiar with the new hose bundle, and they are very universal, so, if they go to one station here in Napa and then next week they're up in Lake County, the hose bundles are the same," said Cal Fire Fire Prevention Specialist Bruce Lang.

At another station, they take a knot tying class, essential in rescue operations using a triangular brace over deep holes or by cliff sides.

At the next station, firefighters learn to fight fire with fire, not to actually fight the fire but to save their own lives and that of their compatriots.

"What they're doing, teaching them is to run to their safe zone and where they're going to deploy their fire shelter. But, on the way to their location, their safe zone, they're going to light a fusee and throw it towards that fire that's heading towards them. That in turn will burn material between them and the main fire and give hem a larger buffer, a larger safe zone," said Lang.

Finally, at the so-called "doll house" station, the firefighters learn how to read smoke coming from a burning structure they may have to enter and how to keep flames and smoke from overwhelming them.

"They'll see that once the compartments are closed, the fire is being starved of oxygen. That shows a different color smoke and a different velocity of the smoke coming out of the gables and the eaves," said Lang.

So far this fire season, California has been under far less siege than this time last year, the largest fire season in California history.

In round numbers, last year, at this time, the state had already lost 149,000 acres.

This year, the acres burned is just 19,000, about one-eighth of last year up to this time and only a third of the five-year average of about 60,000 acres.

It's a combination of our cold, wet spring, plus better preparation of defensible space, plus good old luck.