CAL FIRE brings on hundreds of seasonal firefighters early

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After California logged over 650 wildfires so far, CAL FIRE hired hundreds of seasonal firefighters early.

The drought has moved up fire season, so CAL FIRE has brought on hundreds of seasonal firefighters early. Some are warning that 2015 could be an epic fire season.

CAL FIRE chiefs say a lot depends on weather conditions, including the wind. Grass and brush are dry and are expected to be tinder dry by next month, earlier than usual. And that's the fuel that creates large wildland fires.

CAL FIRE has hired the first batch of about 100 seasonal firefighters for the tough season ahead in Santa Clara County. They're returning to duty after working last fire season. Thirty more have been hired for the first time.

"We're going to be looking out, planning for the worst as it could possibly be, and it could be some dry conditions, so we'll keep our head on a swivel, as we say," Hayward resident and returning seasonal firefighter Joel Garner said.

While it's only mid-April, the state has already logged 651 wildland fires which is 50 percent higher than normal. And here's why -- the drought has dried out grasses that are usually green in the spring. The drought has also stressed out trees and brush that are dying, creating plenty of material to fuel wildland fires. So that's one of the first lessons the seasonal firefighters will tackle in training.

"We'll review that with them, talk to them about the fuel moisture that we're experiencing right now and how a lot of the fuels out there are a lot drier, a lot sooner than they have in years past. So that they can be cognizant and aware of that and plan for that, when we respond to fires," CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Nick Ciardella said from the Santa Clara Unit.

Fire season is about 60 days early this year. This map shows, in red, shows the areas forecast to have substantial wildland fire potential next month. The East and South Bay regions of the Bay Area are included.

CAL FIRE also trained the National Guard this past weekend to bolster its firefighting capability this summer. However, CAL FIRE is stressing it needs help from homeowners as well.

"We really need the help from everybody from the public to do their part and provide defensible space around their property. That is really the key to being able to utilize our resources most effectively," CAL FIRE Division Chief Jim Crawford said, from the Santa Clara Unit.

Seasonal firefighters will boost the number of engines from eight to 12 in the next month in CAL FIRE's Santa Clara unit.
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