Dry, windy, hot weather brings big fire risk

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This year’s fire season has already begun, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said last week in issuing an executive order bolstering the state’s ability to battle wildland fires this year. With temperatures increasing and humidity dropping during the next few days, the chances of a catastrophic blaze rise with the mercury. Mix in more people enjoying their first taste of summer-like weather, and fire officials are on high alert for any sign of suspicious smoke. Now is the time – not June or July – to prepare for the fire season to come. While drought-like weather has kept much of the undergrowth down this spring, it also has made vegetation drier than normal. Start by maintaining at least 100 feet of defensible space around your home – more if possible. Clear all combustible debris, such as brush, shrubs and grasses, and keep tree limbs away from the roofline. Remove leaves and pine needles from roofs and gutters, and remove all firewood from below decks and near walls. Place spark arrestors on all combustion engines used in dry, brushy conditions. Equipment and vehicles start most wildland fires, so do your work in the early morning, if possible, when moisture is greatest. Headed outside for fun and relaxation? Be aware of the dry conditions and mindful that campfires, cigarettes and other seemingly tame sources can start larger fires that move quickly, especially with the occasional swift canyon winds. While the foothills avoided major wildland fires last year, no one can forget the images, heartache and tragedy that befell South Lake Tahoe, Lake Arrowhead, San Diego and other areas last summer and fall. The fires destroyed more than 3,000 homes and structures and left 10 people dead. Damages were in the billions of dollars, and some communities are struggling to recover. The calendar might say mid-May, but the land is telling us to be cautious. Be careful out there.