Drought continues to keep Valley firefighters busy

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. But instead of getting a break, Valley firefighters say fire season is just revving up.

Normal wildfire season goes from about May to September or October. But this is not a normal year. Instead, it's another drought year. All the dry vegetation means firefighters will continue to stay very busy.

All is quiet, at least for now at Tulare County Fire's station in Goshen, but that can all change in a moment.

"Fires are starting rapidly and growing faster than we've seen in years past," said Chief Jeff McLaughlin of the Tulare County Fire Department.

McLaughlin says this year they've had a third more vegetation fires than last year; that's 200 more fires. They say the increase is because of the drought.

"The fuels are ready, they're really receptive, and just ask people to be careful," said McLaughlin.

Right now, almost anything can spark a blaze. A section of grass off of Highway 198 caught fire after a California Highway Patrol vehicle pulled over.

Grass fires in Visalia are keeping city fire crews busy too. Captain Karl Krauss of the Visalia Fire Department says they expect to get even more fire calls soon.

"Unfortunately, sometimes September can just be when fire season gets started," said Krauss.

For example, in 2014 the Courtney Fire near Bass Lake destroyed 30 homes. It moved quickly through the community fueled by heat, dry vegetation and wind. And it wasn't sparked until Sept. 14.

"Firefighters are getting exhausted; resources are getting small throughout the state," said McLaughlin.

Firefighters are working more but trying to be as rested as possible.

"Any small fire can turn into a large fire," said Krauss.

If that happens, they'll need all the energy they can get to get it under control.

Firefighters say the fire season will start to calm down but only when we start seeing some rain.
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