Ag Today June 8, 2017

End of drought could mean the beginning of a busy wildfire season in Southern California

By Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

POSTED: 06/07/17, 6:12 PM PDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO

The end of a five-year drought won’t necessarily be good news for firefighters.

While the plentiful rains of this past winter have colored the mountains and foothills a verdant green, left standing are those red alerts predicting high fire danger this summer and fall, according to local fire departments.

“Whatever brush didn’t burn in last year’s fire season is still there but it is dead because of the five-year drought,” said Inspector Gustavo Medina of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “So you still have vegetation underneath that is brown plus new growth that is ready to burn.”

The combination of dead underbrush and stalks of new grasses and shiny green shrubs are fuel for wildfires. Add heat and winds, and it’s a recipe for disaster, he said.

On Monday, the county, as well as Cal Fire and the fire departments from San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside and Imperial counties announced the start of fire season.

The point was driven home during the press conference, Medina said, when several brush fires broke out nearby in Diamond Bar, San Dimas and Walnut. Medina said those fires were indicative of a fire season that now starts earlier and ends later.

The small fires were put out quickly, without causing any structure damage, he said.

To be ready, Los Angeles County Fire has eight helicopters standing by. The department is adding a snorkel helicopter in July that sucks up water from a lake or reservoir through a long tube, he said.

In September, the department will have two super scooper planes available through the end of fire season. The super scooper, officially known as the Bombardier CL-415, is a fixed-wing aircraft that skims water off the surface of a body of water and then drops 1,600 gallons of water onto the fires below.

Fire departments are concerned that homeowners have become complacent since the drought ended. But the heat and Santa Ana winds have already worked a one-two punch, creating wildfires last weekend in Castaic and Santa Clarita.

“Yeah, we are already having brush fires. That dried-up vegetation really burns up. On top of that is the light grasses and bushes,” he said.

Wildfires occur in the Santa Monica, San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains and in the surrounding foothills, he said.

Homeowners who have experienced wildfires in the past should be ready. Wildfires often occur in a zone where conditions for wildfires, such as high winds and dry brush, can be found year after year.

A few common spots Los Angeles County Fire is watching are the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Malibu hills and canyons, the Santa Clarita area and the corridor of the 5 Freeway.

“Anywhere there are mountains and foothills there is a potential that we can have something happen,” Medina said.

The five years of drought have increased the frequency and intensity of wildfires, he said, almost becoming the norm for Southern California, despite last winter’s rainfall.

Residents in fire-prone regions should clear brush to a defensible space, but do not take out trees or chaparral that are fire resistant. Sometimes clearing an area to the dirt will allow more invasive grasses to grow, which are more flammable.

Trees that overhang a roof should be trimmed to prevent embers from flying from treetop to rooftop, he said.

For more information on how to make a home less fire prone, go to the Los Angeles County Fire website: