CONTRA COSTA COUNTY (KPIX 5) — Under May red flag conditions, officials in California on Monday were issuing dire warning for an early and longer fire season this year.
Governor Gavin Newsom has declared this week Wildfire Preparedness Week in the Golden State. Not even halfway through 2021 and California has already had more than 1,800 wildfires, surpassing last year’s record pace.READ MORE: Wild Fan Celebration Erupts Following San Francisco 49ers Last-Second Playoff Win
“Conditions continue to evolve, but really not for the good,” said Director of CalOES Mark Ghilarducci.
Cal Fire Chief Tom Porter says the agency is prepared with more 1200 additional firefighters already for this year and is making seasonal hires earlier than ever.
“Our biggest concern is boots on the ground, because aircraft won’t put fires out. Boots on the ground put fires out,” Porter said.
CalFire is beefing up its air power as well. The state has ordered a dozen Sikorsky S70i helicopters. Five have already been delivered and two more are expected by the end of May.
“They are larger and faster, they are gonna change the way we do our rotor initial attack on the CalFire side as well as more support during our initial attack fires,” Porter said.
It’s not just Cal Fire warning to get moving on improving your defensible space, capping your eaves to protect them from blowing embers and having an evacuation plan. U.S. Forest Service officials agree that the time to have a plan is right now.
“Wildfire preparedness week used to have a slogan of ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ We don’t use that anymore if you notice. We say ‘GO!’ We don’t have time in California,” said Robert Barrett of the U.S. Forest Service.READ MORE: Officials Warn Waves, Rip Currents Expected to Be Dangerous Through Monday
Adding to the trouble is an 18-month long tree die off in the Bay Area. After another year of not enough rain and humidity, the fuel load in the hills is growing exponentially.
“There are millions of dead trees and all of those pose hazards across California for all of us,” said Barrett.
The damage and death from drought and pests is easy to spot.
“A red pine tree is dead pine tree. They’re not coming back. Some will come back, but not pine trees, but once they are red, they’re dead, they’re gone,” said Porter.
Contra Costa County is reminding homeowners they must remove dry brush and dead trees from their property in the next two weeks and grass must be mowed to no taller than three inches.
“Meet the standards of your local communities, your local fire districts — meet them at a minimum of what the state requires on state responsibility area,” said Porter.
Officials want residents to understand: fire season isn’t a far off concept — it is already here.MORE NEWS: UPDATE: Wind-Whipped Wildfire Near Big Sur Forces Evacuations; 'Some Pretty Surreal Fire Behavior'
“We are seeing conditions right now this year that are a month or two down the road. It’s not too late, but it’s right now that you need to do the work that I’ve been talking about,” said Porter.