Preparing for fire season

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Cal Fire officials are ramping up for what they believe will be a dangerous fire season.

"I'm expecting an average to above average fire season. With the late rains, we received really pushed the growth of the grass. Grass is easily ignitable and that's where most of our fires start," Cal Fire Battalion Chief Troy Cheek said.

On Monday, Cal Fire hired seasonal firefighters as they start ramping up for the season. They usually have about 80 to 95 firefighters during the peak of the season.

Cal Fire officials said a grass fire near Los Banos earlier this week was their first blaze of this year's fire season.

Hills are filled with brush and grass. Several areas in the North Valley and the Foothills have millions of dead trees that act as fuel for fires.

"They're not going away. Even some of the trees burned in the Railroad Fire, some are still standing. They still provide fuel beds," Cheek said.

Madera County Supervisor, Tom Wheeler, said their county is one of the areas hardest hit by the tree mortality issue. After dealing with the Railroad and Mission Fire last summer, they're working to clear the excess dead lumber to prevent another destructive fire.

"We got a grant thru the state of California, Cal Fire for $2 million, and we're clearing all of our roads. We just signed a contract two weeks ago with a contractor and they're going to clear all the dead trees from the roads. We've been trying to do it for two years but we haven't had the money," Wheeler said.

Firefighters also said last year's wildfires could help crews this time around.

"The fires we've had in the past will provide fuel breaks that we can use to control fires. Typically if you drive in an area where the Detwiler Fire burned, you'll see there are grass crops so it'll be easier to control maybe," Cheek said.

Cal Fire is already sending inspectors to residences to make sure people have a 100-foot clearance around their homes

Fire officials said they will start training with a controlled fire in a few weeks.
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