“Weeds and grasses that we call fuel are historically dry,” he said. “I’ve never seen it (moisture) as low as it is. They are saying this year will be the worst due to a lack of available water and moisture.”
Although fires haven’t been as large this spring as last year, they have become more frequent, Kellogg said.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported fighting as many fires this January as during the months of January through July in 2013, he said.
Wildfire season in California is usually May through November, but the season began months early this year, when Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a drought state of emergency for California on Jan. 17.
A lack of rain, resulting in tinder-dry weeds and grasses, is a major contributing factor to the threat of wildfire this summer. Last year, though, several late-in-the-season rainstorms created layers of grass growth, which hasn’t happened this year.
“We’re seeing higher temperatures and the fuel is light and flashy, so fires spread faster,” Kellogg said. “Our situation is similar to the rest of the state. We saw very limited rainfall in the winter and spring.”
Kellogg is the mutual-aid coordinator for San Joaquin County strike teams, and he said Tracy sent out its first strike team in May to help control a fire in San Diego near Camp Pendleton. The Tracy firefighters worked on the fire for four days.
Strike teams are part of a mutual-aid response that typically consists of five units from different fire departments with the same type of engines, equipment and capabilities and the same number of people.
In 2013, Tracy sent three strike teams to fires around the state, and Kellogg expects the same this year.
According to statistics from CALFIRE, there have been 2,547 fires in California between Jan.1 and June 21, destroying 18,322 acres.
To protect large properties or those in rural areas from wildfire, Kellogg recommended clearing 100 feet of defensible space around buildings down to the soil, remove all weeds and dry plants, cutting vegetation to 4 inches or less, pruning low-hanging branches and keeping gutters and roofs clean.
“We’re treating (this year) as any other year, with the understanding there is an increase of potential fires,” Kellogg said. “We’re prepared and crews are ready. We’re trying to stay ahead of the game by adding more engines and people to get ahead of the fire faster.”
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-4225.