CalFire: Watching Colorado, Preparing for the Worst

There have already been more than 2,500 wildfires in California this year

Craig Miller/KQED

A wildfire truck owned by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

While CalFire experts, embedded with the California National Guard are helping fight the massive wildfires in Colorado, CalFire is also beefing up at home, preparing for the peak of California’s fire season. As of this week, the agency is fully staffed, with 7,000 personnel, hundreds of engines and dozens of air tankers and helicopters.

CalFire has already responded to 2,308 fires this year — that’s more than 1,000 more than at this time last year, and higher than the five-year average, too. Combined with the fires in local jurisdictions, there have been more than 2,500 fires this year, and that doesn’t include wildfires on federal land.

“We had some spring rains but in terms of fuel and fire conditions, it’s too little too late because we are seeing an increase in fire starts,” Janet Upton, the Deputy Director of Communications at CalFire told me. “We roughly respond to a thousand fires a month this time of year, but typically you’re not hearing about them because we keep them small and keep the damage to a minimum.”

The dry winter is partially to blame for the higher number of fires, but Upton says it’s not the only culprit. “We’re attributing it to a lot of things,” she said. “Climate change, certainly drought-stressed trees. We’ve had a number of consecutive years of drought in the past decade, and that makes the trees more susceptible to disease and bug infestation, like the bark beetle kill in Southern California and Sudden Oak Death along the North Coast and Marin County.”

California hasn’t reached its peak fire season yet. It typically begins around mid-August, and lasts through October. So CalFire is looking to Colorado, to get clues about what to expect here later this summer. “Where the nation goes, we tend to follow,” Upton said. “Fire season tends to move across the U.S. from east to west.”

Even a normal year in California comes with fire. But fire season is getting longer, and the fires are getting larger: eleven of the largest fires [PDF] CalFire has taken on since the 1930’s have taken place in the last decade.

  • Julie Jones

    In 2010 I published a records book, Estate Documents Organizer, to help people locate and manage essential documents in an A-Z binder — that could be easily transported in case of emergencies.  See the website, http://www.estatedocsorganizer.com  for details, blogs linking  Wall St Journal articles, etc. discussing the importance of document prep… birth certificates, property deeds, wills, etc.  These papers must not “go up in smoke.”