SoCal firefighters bracing for yet another potentially historic fire season

After one of the most destructive wildfire seasons on record, fire officials across the state are saying California is on track for yet another year of devastating fires.

"We keep making that same statement, that this is the worst fire season ever," said CalFire battalion chief Jon Heggie. "And then the next season seems to trump that."

"We're in unprecedented times where things are getting worse and worse."

Heggie said fuel moistures are running about six to eight weeks ahead of schedule, meaning it's as dry right now as it typically would be in the first part of September.

"We're paying the price for an extended period of drought, and the results of that are tons of available fuel throughout California."

Statistics show that nationally, although there have been fewer overall fires that there were decades ago, the number of acres burned every year has been rising steadily. In California, more than 4 million acres burned in 2020, about 4% of the total land area of the state.

And as the fires grow larger and larger, fire officials say they obviously become more difficult for firefighters across the state to handle.

"When the machine is oiled and available, there is almost (no fire) that we can't knock down quickly," said San Bernardino county battalion chief Mike Wakoski. "But when we have consecutive fires during consecutive hot spells, the resources become thinner and thinner and less available because they're already on (other) fires."

"Pretty soon we don't have the resources to extinguish the fires. That's when they get big."

Looking toward future years, Wakoski says there needs to be more of a focus on reducing fuels, and not just putting out fires.

"Many hundreds of years ago, fires were allowed to run all over the place, and it kept the fuel loading to a minimum," said Wakoski, who believes that as more people move into areas threatened by fires, firefighters have no choice but to extinguish many of those blazes as quickly as possible.

"We have all of this fuel buildup in the forest, and I don't want to say there's mismanagement of public and state lands, but now we don't even have a choice: now we have to put them out, or we'll burn hundreds of houses out in a fire."

"It's like a tinderbox. And once we get a fire going in an area, and it's established, it turns into a conflagration. And we lose homes and lives."

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