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Fire crews prepare as heat wave hits the Bay Area

A heat advisory will be in effect for most of the Bay Area from Tuesday at 1 p.m. to Wednesday at 8 p.m.

The soaring temperatures happen to coincide with California firefighters beefing up their defensive ranks. CAL FIRE is gearing up for the summer peak level now, while it's still spring.

Fire season is starting earlier and staffing is being beefed up because of the hot weather. The combination of recent winds, dry brush, and the hot temperatures are all creating a recipe for fire danger.



CAL FIRE opened its Sonoma Air Attack Base in Santa Rosa on Monday, a month and a half earlier than the scheduled date.

Battalion Chief Chris Jurasek runs the base. If you look up over a fire later this year and see a twin-tailed, Vietnam War-era spotter plane, there will be a good chance he'll be in it, quarterbacking the aerial attack.

"The ground resources put the fire out," Jurasek said. "The aviation assets just slow 'em down so the ground resources can get in there."

CAL FIRE has set up its network of bases to have planes within reach of any fire zone within 20 minutes. They will drop a mixture of water and salt plus orange dye as fire retardant.

When the summer gets busy these crews may load planes 20 times a day, a thousand gallons per load, with engines still running.

Officials say 95 percent of fires are started by people, so they are asking everyone to be extra careful with power tools and campfires. They'll be especially watching uphill.



"The 3,500 to 3,800 elevation ranges are going to be some of the most critical areas for fire behavior. There has been no snow pack to saturate the ground," CAL FIRE Capt. Craig Collins.

The team at the CAL FIRE Sunol Station added fire trucks Monday, bringing the number to their typical summer peak level, which is not something they usually do in the Spring. They will also be training new employees for the season.

"Not normally in May," Collins said. "No, normally we're just starting up. We could have eight engines, 12 engines. Today we're starting at 15."

Clear out the defensible space around your home and talk to your family about your evacuation plan, especially if you live in a rural area.

Fight over eucalyptus trees as fire danger looms

It's not hard to see that things are starting to heat up in the East Bay. And as far as fire danger is concerned, it's looking a lot more like the Four of July than two weeks before Memorial Day.

"The fuels are amazingly dry for what we normally expect this time of year," said Contra Costa County Fire Marshal Robert Marshall. "Usually the fuel moistures are about 20 points higher than what they are right now."

Even Mount Diablo is starting to turn brown, well ahead of schedule.

Same in the Oakland-Berkeley Hills, where some residents wonder why there's still so many eucalyptus trees.



"The trees contain a lot of oil," Jon Kaufman said.

Kaufman is a member of the Claremont Canyon Conservancy, a neighborhood group that thinks the trees should've been removed years ago.

But $6 million in money from FEMA for UC Berkeley and other agencies to clear the trees has yet to come through.

"There's a delay in that and we're very afraid that FEMA will give the money only for thinning the trees and not for removing them, which would be a disaster," Kaufman said.

"Having tall trees for shade actually results in a lower fire risk, than removing them," Dan Grassetti said.

Grassetti also lives in Claremont Canyon, but he's leading the charge to save an estimated one million eucalyptus trees in the East Bay Hills.

He says clear-cutting the trees would not reduce the fire danger.

"It actually increases the risk of fire because it promotes the growth of species such as hemlock, poison oak and thistles that thrive in open and sunny environments," Grassetti said.

A FEMA spokesperson told ABC7 News that the agency hopes to have a long-awaited environmental study its fire hazard mitigation plan completed by the end of the year.

Bay Area residents try to keep cool as heat wave hits

The fire department will be watching the dry hills, but will also keep a close eye on people at the Amgen bicycle race which passes through the Bay Area on Tuesday. Spectators say it will be tough on the racers.

Community Services Manager Becky Hopkins is keeping an eye on the forecast for the city of Pleasanton. She is considering opening a senior cooling center this week, a place with air conditioning where people can gather and keep cool.

Officials say it is critical to take good care of yourself and to check in on elderly neighbors or people with health problems. They suggest you exercise early in the morning, avoid the hottest part of the day and keep hydrated.



Firefighters are hoping people will be extra careful these next few days, but they are on high alert and ready to go if something goes wrong during the heat wave.

Warm temperatures today will turn to really hot on Tuesday and Wednesday, with degrees in the mid-80s to 90s near the coast and mid-90s to 103 inland, according to Ryan Walbrun, senior meteorologist for the weather service in Monterey.

The two-day heat wave will be of biggest concern in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose that are densely populated and not many people have air conditioning to cool off with.

The heat wave will subside some on Thursday, which will still be a warm day, with highs that might be in the 90s in the East Bay.

On Friday, the Bay Area should see a return to temperatures in the 70s and 80s, which are seasonable for this time of year.

The heat could have health impacts, causing dehydration and exhaustion, particularly in people over age 65, infants and young children, people with medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, asthma or respiratory conditions. People who have been consuming caffeine or alcohol are also at a higher risk of dehydration.

To avoid heat-related illnesses, the San Francisco Department of Public Health recommends drinking plenty of water, even if not thirsty, wearing light-colored clothes and a hat, consuming alcohol or sugary drinks only in moderation, wearing sunscreen and taking breaks in the shade whenever possible.

Heat-related illnesses can cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing, red, dry skin with no sweating, a rapid pulse, a throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, delirium or chills.

The hot, dry air could also cause health problems by trapping more pollution than normal. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a "Spare the Air" warning for high smog today and Tuesday, and the forecast for the coming days indicate that more alerts will likely follow this week.

Bay City News contributed to this story.
Related Topics:
weather heat drought cal fire heat wave FEMA Sunol Pleasanton Santa Rosa Oakland Hills Berkeley
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