Cal Fire urges residents to prepare for wildfire season now

A number of state and federal agencies urged people to get prepared for fires now ahead of what is shaping up to be another challenging wildfire season.

Cal Fire, Cal OES, the U.S. Forestry Service and other local fire agencies put out the call for the public to act now while speaking at a media conference on Monday morning. The officials spoke at the San Pablo Reservoir in Orinda, an area surrounded by dead pine trees that highlight the importance of fire safety.

"Think of it this way, every acre in California can and will burn someday," Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said. "You need to be prepared as if it's going to happen today."

Porter encouraged to follow local fire codes in their neighborhoods, create defensible space around their homes, remove flammable vegetation and harden their homes to make them more resilient and resistant to embers.

The urgency to prepare now is heightened by the fact that California has received very little rain so far this year.

Contra Costa County Fire Chief Lewis Broschard said the agency just increased its staffing to a peak fire season response one month ahead of schedule.

"The amount of moisture that's in brush and trees right now is about equivalent to what we'd see in July or August," he said.

He also noted the agency has applied for state grant money in order to remove the dead vegetation in the county, including the dead pine trees at the San Pablo Reservoir.

The fire season is expected to be especially challenging as California has already seen more than 1,700 wildfires to date, according Porter. He said that is well above the five year average with crews seeing currently conditions comparable to what they typically see during the summer.

"We’re finding the need this year to staff up and be ready what could be as challenging as last year," he said.

Cal Fire has hired roughly 1,400 firefighters and more seasonal firefighters ahead of schedule. Porter said five of 12 Firehawk helicopters are already in service and the agency continues to do prescribed burns across the state. Still, the agency is right on the edge of meeting the need for this year’s fire season. Porter said it’s estimated that fire season is approximately 75 days longer than it was 30 years ago.

"We aren't at peak conditions quite yet but it's coming very quickly," Porter said. "It's not going to be in June. It's going to be sometime now and June we'll be hitting peak in this area."