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US Forest Service preps for upcoming fire season

March 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The very wet winter has been great for the local resorts with all the snow. But all the water also means lots of new growth will come this spring, which, in turn, means high fire danger in late summer.

Nearly a year and a half ago, the Sheep Fire burned more than 7,000 acres southeast of Wrightwood, taking out about half a dozen structures. Wrightwood was evacuated for several days.

It was the worst fire Bob Kirkland, who's lived in Wrightwood for 30 years, had ever seen.

"That was the first time I've ever been scared," said Kirkland. "I didn't think I would come home to anything."

But with a fire burning less than a mile away, he's not scared. It is a controlled burn by the United States Forest Service, one of six that they have planned to clear out dangerous fuels and dry brush.

"I've even seen them when they did thinning of some of the dead trees up here," said Kirkland. "I'm happy to see that. I really am. It's a scary situation."

The other thing firefighters are concerned about is that according to U.S. census numbers, the number of residents living in fire prone areas has jumped by 50 percent in the past decade. That alone will increase the risk of fire.

"The more people we have, the more risk we have of fires," said Javier Gonzalez from the U.S. Forest Service. "The more people we have in the area, the more risk there are of fires. The more people moving through the area, the risk of fire will be more."

It's hard to tell how bad fire season will be this year. But just because it's been a wet winter, doesn't mean we're in the clear.

"We've had quite a bit of rain and snow," said Gonzalez. "That just makes the weed problem worse because they grow higher, taller. Everything about them, and that's a little spooky."

But control burns on cool, damp days, make most residents feel safer.