With the weather getting hotter, what is the outlook for Stanislaus’ fire season?

With the weather getting hotter, what is the outlook for Stanislaus’ fire season?

The Modesto Fire includes the fire at the Tuolumne River Regional Park as seen from the 9th Avenue Bridge on Friday, August 4, 2021 in Modesto, California.


Andy Alfaro

aalfaro@modbee.com

After a water year that was well above average, residents in Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties should keep in mind that much of the lush vegetation enjoyed this spring is drying into fire fuel as summer heat sets in.

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According to the Western Fire Chiefs Association, peak fire season runs from July through October, with the period of highest risk landing during September and October.

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Modesto Fire Department Capt. Jim Black said that for residents of Northern California, however, fire season can stretch from May through December. “So if it’s a drier winter, we don’t get a lot of rain or snow, it can start as early as May in Northern California,” Black said. “And then it does go through the summer.”

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Black said the major difference between this year and past fire seasons has been the rainfall from earlier months this year. The central Sierra watersheds were at 159% of average on Thursday, according to the California Data Exchange Center.

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“We had such a really wet winter that there’s a lot more growth than normal,” Black said “So there’s a lot more vegetation that’s grown and it’s probably a lot taller and thicker than it has been in past years. So that will pose a problem for the grass areas out in the county.”

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Within the city of Modesto, there is less vegetation than there is near Oakdale and outer areas of Stanislaus County and in Tuolumne County. Areas like Diablo Grande have a higher risk because they are surrounded by grasslands, Black said.

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Modesto firefighters extinguish a hotspot after a grass fire at the Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto, Calif., Friday, Jan. 20, 2021.Modesto firefighters extinguish a hotspot during a grass fire at the Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto, California, Friday, January 20, 2021.Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

RESIDENTS ADVISED TO CREATE “DEFENSIBLE SPACE”

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“The one major thing is to make sure you have at least a hundred feet of defensible space around your property,” Black said. “That can come in the form of if you have turf or grass or any kind of noncombustible-type plants and stuff like that.”

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For residents with grass or brush within 100 feet of their homes, Black recommended removing what’s dead or dry. For residents in the higher country or near taller trees, he advised clearing any dropped pine needles and dry leaves.

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“Make sure they’re all off the roof and the gutters are all cleared of any that as well,” Black said.

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Residents near “a mountainous area, forest-covered lands, shrub-covered lands, grass-covered lands, or land that is covered with flammable material” are also required by law to maintain a hundred feet of defensible space. On its website, Fire.ca.gov, Cal Fire provides information on how to create a defensible space.

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RESOURCES FROM AIR DISTRICT, CAL FIRE

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The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District program is offering qualifying Valley residents a free air purifier this wildfire season. Last year, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley found that air filters can reduce exposure to smoke pollution.

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Black said firefighters engage in simulations of evacuating injured individuals in the wildland interface, pumping and rolling, and getting into the protective shelter to prepare for fire season. During larger fires, one group of firefighters can remain nearby for as long as 21 days before swapping with another team.

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To prepare for fires, Cal Fire offers resources at Fire.ca.gov/prepare on staying ready, creating an emergency plan and understanding when to evacuate. Black said if you smell or see fire, call 911.

Hamera Shabville, an environmental studies major at Yale University, is a summer report intern at Modest Bee. She previously worked as an environmental science and then sports editor at the Yale Daily News.

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