Forest Service vehicle responding to Lawler Fire in January. Photo by J.P. Crumrine

Federal officials held a special conference Thursday to announce their preparation for the 2012 fire season.

“The fire season is upon us,” said Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “We average 10,000 forest fires per year and respond rapidly and thoroughly when they do occur.”

“We expect a similar fire season to what we saw last year and a similar level of activity,” said Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell.

“In addition to work we’re doing to decrease the hazardous fuels in the national forests to reduce threats to communities, private land owners need to do a better job around their property,” Tidwell advised Forest residents.

Federal agencies and firefighting agencies rely on sophisticated wildland fire forecast technology, he said. This intelligence allows them to mix and pre-position their firefighting assets including air tankers, helicopters and engines.

This technology allows the Forest Service to “forecast accurately where fires will occur and how severe they’ll become,” Vilsack emphasized. Tidwell also credited the cooperation between federal agencies and state and local firefighting units.

The 2012 budget has funding to begin re-building the Service’s air tanker fleet, according to Vilsack. Tidwell hopes the current contract request will enable the Forest Service to expand the current air tanker fleet from 11 to 14 for this season and eight more next year.

Meanwhile the Air National Guard has indicated its willingness to cooperate if a major fire occurs this year, Tidwell added.