Early Fire Season: Cal Fire has already responded to 1,354 wildfires this year

If you think there have been a lot of wildfires as of late, you are spot on. But the worst of the season is still ahead of us as we brace for the next seven months.

For firefighters, it's already an early and scary fire whack-a-mole scenario. Thanks to great firefighting and some defensible space, Thursday's wind-whipped fire in Pittsburg did not take out the neighborhood along Hillview Drive. But, it was a close call, with a few residents losing out buildings, but not their homes.

"I opened the gate for the firefighters to get through and I just saw that there's a big huge ball of fire in the back, but luckily they were able to control it. Luckily it didn't spread to the house. It just got the yard," said Hillview Drive resident Jerry Soto.

Nonetheless, the hillside wasn't scrubbed vegetation free. "It's part of the city to keep that lower, us residents, we kind of hire people or we do it ourselves; the majority of us in here," said resident Marcus Castro.

With so many fires on record, even before the peak of the fire season, it suggests this can happen to anyone, anywhere and it's likely to happen more often this year than most. In fact, fires are  popping up everywhere such one in Calaveras County. Another scary one popped up in even drier Southern California.

Cal Fire's latest count shows that so far this year, it has responded to 1,354 fires as opposed to 814 for the same period last year. Add in fires handled by the Federal Forest Service and the number is 1,546 so far this year. The five-year average for fires in the same period is 654.

This is ominous for fire season 2021. "The fuels are receptive, the opportunity exists and where there's the opportunity, there's a potential for devastating fires," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie.

The biggest danger, areas where drought, bark beetles and sudden oak death have killed millions of trees but haven't had a recent wildfire.

"So, all the dead fuel and material throughout California is still there from areas that have not burned. So, any fire that gets established in those fires with a large amount of dead fuel, it has that potential for being, you know, really devastating," said Chief Heggie.

"I feel like, yeah this year it might increase because we're going through this drought and it's a lot hotter," said Hillview Drive resident Soto.

"It's a joint effort between us and the public to both do out parts; us by fighting fires aggressively and them for reducing the fuels around their structure and their homes," said the Chief.

Without that partnership this year, we will be in real trouble.