Controlled burn in East Bay hills takes on greater importance amid pandemic

The Moraga-Orinda Fire District was deliberately burning thick brush and vegetation Tuesday, not far from Campolindo High School in Moraga, before an out-of-control wildfire gets the chance.

"A wildfire startingnow has the potential to spread rapidly," said Moraga-Orinda Fire Chief Dave Winnacker.

The recent heat waves have dried out the vegetation. That's a scary proposition with July 4th around the corner.

"The introduction of fireworks or any other source has the potential to start a significant wildfire this time of year," said Winnacker.

At this early point in the fire season in California, firefighters are nervous about the summer and fall.

State records show there have been more than 3,100 fires this year. That's almost twice the number as this time last year.  They've burned thousands more acres as well.

"We've seen an increase in the number of early fires then we've had on average in the past,"  said Cal Fire Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox.

Besides high winds and low humidity Cal Fire has another enemy to fight this year, the coronavirus.

The days of having thousands of firefighters at a base camp are not possible now.

"There is nothing that is going to be easy about this fire season and covid," said Cox. "The fact that we're going to have to keep people socially distant with masks and hand sanitizer as soon as they come into base camp. These are considerations we are putting together on a statewide level."

Evacuation centers for the displaced also will likely be smaller, but with more of them.

Cal Fire says people in fire prone areas should make plans now on where they can go in an emergency.

In the East Bay Hills the Moraga-Orinda fire chief would like to see cattle grazing in the area to help control vegetation.

He hopes the now completed North Orinda Shaded Fuel Break will help firefighters make a stand if a blaze breaks out. Last year they cut a 19-mile path from Lafayette to Tilden Park in Berkeley.

Firefighters are also imploring homeowners to get rid of the dried vegetation on their property, and make a defensible space. That could be what helps save their homes, if a wildfire is bearing down on their neighborhood.