State is starting what appears to be a hot fire season

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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It’s still spring, and major fires have broken out throughout the state, scorching thousands of acres.

November and December were great winter-type months — good rain and snow. But then everything dried up. January and February were touted as being some of the driest months in the history of recorded rain and snowfall.

The last snowpack recording for the winter-spring of 2012-13 revealed 17 percent of normal. That means areas that should still be covered with snow simply aren’t. We’ve also been teased with temperatures well above normal for this time of year. That equates to fields drying out much earlier than normal, from the valley floor throughout the Sierra.

The sword is double-edged, however. Had we had a normal winter, when heavy snow existed and rain continued, it would have caused wild grasses to grow longer and be more of a massive fuel source. With that, the fire season is generally later but the added fuel source can make the fire much more dangerous.

Yet, in the high country, once a fire gets going, tall grasses don’t mean much. Ground clutter of pine needles and brush will easily fuel fires into the tall pines.

Last week, the Panther Fire was raging just north of Butte Meadows, my old deer hunting stomping grounds. And, there were two raging wildfires in Southern California.

The Panther Fire most likely was caused by a lightning strike, the cause of many fires.

The storms that came through last week provided welcome temperature relief and occasional raindrops. The downside is that there were many lightning strikes at the same time. As dry as the state already is, the state can expect many more fires should this type of storm continue.

You, of course, can do your part. Most campgrounds still allow campfires. It’s wonderful having a campfire to sit around, but keep it small and intimate.

If you smoke, restrict yourself to when and where. If you’re in the field, don’t smoke at all. If you just have to have that cigarette, stay in one spot while you smoke. Clear a space to bare dirt to extinguish the cigarette before you move on. And don’t flip a lit cigarette out of your car window.

Even if you’re around your home in the mountains, don’t use power equipment with a metal blade, like a weed eater or lawnmower. When the blade inadvertently strikes a rock, sparks fly. A spark simmering in grass is a common start to many fires.

Most fires are caused by an act of Mother Nature. Just make sure you do your part to minimize any chance of causing sparks to fly.


Hunting Digest mailed


Within a day or two of the previous week’s column, the California Hunting Digest hit my mailbox, something every licensed hunter throughout the state in 2012 should have now received. If you haven’t received yours, you can go to your favorite sporting goods outlet or to a Department of Fish and Wildlife office and obtain a copy.

There are no applications for any special hunts included in this year’s digest; nor are you receiving a separate mailing that would include labels. The license and tag application process is available online, including all special hunts that require a drawing.

It’s a simple process, and less mailed materials are required. You can do it online or have an authorized license agent do it for you online.

Either way, if you plan on any of the special hunts — certain deer hunts and zones, elk, pronghorn antelope or bighorn sheep, the deadline for applying is midnight June 2.

Contact George deVilbiss at