Bay Area firefighters brace for early fire season

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CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) — “It’s looking like fire weather is upon us and it’s looking like it’s going to start earlier than it has in recent years.”

Wildfires in April.

Bay Area firefighters have been responding to brush fires across the region.

Video of the “Butano Fire” captured on Cal Fire cameras this afternoon has burned about 3 acres in the CZU Lightning Complex burn area.

The unseasonably warm weather coupled with winds and the lack of rain is creating fuel for these fires.

Contra Costa County alone had a few grass fires on Friday. The fires are in remote areas – high risk areas are being closely monitored but first responders are urging people to be ready for a long fire season.

“This is the time of year for homeowners to act now to protect their homes, their families their properties, neighborhoods from the threat of wildfires,” Contra Costa County Fire Protection District’s Steve Hill said.

“Taking care of that defensible space, cutting their weeds back, limbing out trees, a lot of the work that they would have waited a little bit in the season, they’re eager to get started on now,” Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal said.

These fires are the reason why firefighters are getting the word out to be prepared.

Unseasonably warm weather, mixed with dry vegetation are creating wildfire fuel — and growing drought concerns.

“April 1 is usually expected to be the time where the plants are growing vigorously with high fuel moisture content with lots of new growth and to our surprise we didn’t see any of that,” SJSU Direct5or of Wildlife Interdisciplinary Research Center and Meteorology Craig Clements said.

Clements runs the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center at San Jose State.

He spent Friday afternoon looking at the conditions in the Santa Cruz mountains.

“There’s no new growth on any of the shrubs we’re sampling which indicates the drought and lack of rain we’ve had this winter has been really affecting the fuels and the fuels are already starting out drier than they should and this record drought is going to be a problem this summer,” Clements said.

The Bay Area is already seeing fires pop up in recent weeks.

Thursday night, Contra Costa firefighters responded to a grass fire in Antioch, suspected of arson.

“It just points out the fact that the conditions are right for heightened fire danger and serve for a reminder to all of us that we need to be careful with all of our outdoor activities,” Hill said.

In the North Bay, $5,250,000 has been set aside for both the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County as a result of the PG&E settlements after the Tubbs Fire in 2017.

“That money is being put aside for preventative measures for vegetation management, a lot of different programs designed to help mitigate the risk of large scale wildfires here locally,” Lowenthal said.

Un the meantime, Lowenthal is encouraging residents to be extra vigilant.

“That lack of rain doesn’t necessary mean we are going to start seeing those devastating fires right away but we could very well see them earlier in the season historically than the past,” he said.

To help improve alert warning capabilities ahead of fire season, starting Wednesday, April 7, the city of Santa Rosa will be giving away 12,000 NOAA weather radios – primarily for those living within the wildland interface. People who live in a tornado prone area are familiar with them they don’t cost a lot but it can save your life, first responders are encouraging people to have a back up alert system in case you lose power and cell service which we have seen during past fires.

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