SANTA BARBARA. (AP) — In a reflection of California’s bone-dry conditions after four years of drought, fire agencies along the state’s central and southern coasts are ramping up staffing levels well before they normally do.
Ventura County Fire, Santa Barbara County Fire and state fire crews in San Luis Obispo County and the San Benito-Monterey area are adding firefighters, fire engines, bull dozers, helicopters and air tankers on Monday for this year’s fire season, fire officials announced. The Los Padres National Forest is also adding firefighters and equipment.
Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni tells the Los Angeles Times his department used to ramp up at the end of May or in June. But he said the state’s drought has made the early call up the new normal.
State fire crews have responded to 640 fires since January, more than twice the number over similar periods before the drought, state fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told the Times.
She said some state fire units began adding additional firefighters in March.
The chance of a wildfire in California typically peaks in autumn. But fire officials say the ongoing drought has made wildfires a year-round concern in the state.
The concern is heightened in areas such as the central coast that have also experienced higher-than-normal temperatures this winter, fire officials said.
People there are being warned to create 100 feet of defensible space around their homes and use fire resistant building materials to harden the structures.
People are also being urged to restrict their use of power equipment such as chain saws outdoors because more than 90 percent of wildfires are the result of human activity.