Ripe fire conditions may test CA's fire readiness

May 6, 2013 5:37:27 PM PDT
Just a few days into the month of May, it's already proving to be an intense fire season. California is broke, but Gov. Jerry Brown says residents don't need to worry about stretched budgets affected firefighting resources.

The Springs Fire in Ventura County may be an indication of what's ahead for California. CAL FIRE has already responded to nearly 1,100 wildfires statewide this year. The average for this time is about half of that. The dry winter has made conditions ripe for a long, devastating fire season.

"Our climate is changing. The weather is become more intense. It's going to cost a lot of money and a lot of lives," California Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday. He and several agencies kicked off Wildfire Awareness Week by assuring Californians the state is ready.

Despite the extra costs, hiring firefighters and tuning up equipment were all done early when the latest reading for the Sierra snowpack showed only 17 percent water content. State leaders vow money will not be an issue if the fires keep up. "The message is clear. We will do whatever it takes to fight the fires and worry about that later," said California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird.

The state may be feeling confident about this fire season, but locals are concerned whether they can fulfill requests for help.

California's mutual aid system heavily relies on local agencies to help whenever state resources aren't enough, but the firefighters' union questions the locals' ability to step up when they've seen a 25 percent staffing reduction statewide due to budget cuts which caused some cities to shut down fire stations either permanently or a few days a week.

"When we've seen the closing of fire stations, downsizing of staffing, that doesn't allow the local fire agencies to provide resources elsewhere in the state," says Lou Paulson with California Professional Firefighters.

"So, if we're short in an area because of fire activity, we very easily move other resources in to fill that need. At no time did any resource shortages impact our ability to fight these fires during this last week," says CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott.

This may be the fire season that puts that to the test.


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