Wildfire season likely early, more damaging this year

FRESNO, Calif.

The Valley did get a little rain over the weekend, but Fresno got about one-third of the average rainfall in the first two months of this year. Our quick look around the Valley Tuesday revealed some traditional trouble spots already posing problems.

Charred eucalyptus trees mark the property line at this plot east of Clovis -- a line otherwise obscured by the same type of fuel as fed the fire that left its signature on the trees last year.

"The situation was very similar," said Capt. Ryan Michaels of Fresno County Cal-Fire. "The grass and debris throughout the field was very high."

Wildfires are common in this area -- one in 2008 was even deadly -- and firefighters see the high green grass on this property, from the fence line to the barn, as a precursor to more trouble.

"I'm just looking at it and I see over here it's green, but if we just go a couple feet over here, it's already starting to turn yellow and get dry," an Action News reporter showed Capt. Michaels.

"Yeah," said the captain. "There may be different pockets of dead and dry material intermixed with some of the things that are still alive. A little bit of wind, though -- even right now with the cool temperatures -- can push that fire through the dead material in through the green and back through the dead. Wind is an amazing factor when it comes to wildland fire."

"I worry because no one's taking care of it," said neighbor Holly Mullens.

She also fears the worst. Mullens plotted an escape route for her family should another fire break out, and they may do some yard work on other properties as well.

"We tend to try and help out the neighbors that can't really do it or some of these houses that are empty because we don't want the fires out here. I saw the damage it did," Mullens said.

Firefighters will start enforcing Fresno County's fire protection ordinance on May 1, but they're expecting the fire season to start even earlier. They're hoping property owners will create the mandatory 30-foot clearances as soon as possible.

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