In a formal proclamation, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. declared May 4 through May 10 as “Wildfire Awareness Week,” and as part of the week’s activities, Cal Fire held an open house at the Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in Hemet last Friday.
Not only the governor, but speakers at the Air Base stressed that residents and property owners have a responsibility to help reduce the chance and risk of wildland fires.
“Firefighting alone cannot protect us, and every citizen, especially those living in fire-prone areas, has an important role in preventing loss of life and property for wildfire events,” Brown stated in his proclamation.
At the Hemet event, Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott spoke about the interdependent roles of his agency and the public. “We are prepared; we’ve been staffing early. We’re asking the public to provide defensible space. We’ve done our part, it’s time for you to do you’re part.” This is the message being carried throughout the state.
All the speakers stressed that the drought exacerbates the fire threat. In Southern California, Cal Fire views the fire season as year round “… 365/7,” Pimlott said.
From January through the end of April of this year, Cal Fire has already responded to more than 1,100 fires. During the same period last year, the number of fires was almost 700 while the five-year average is only 500.
“It is more apparent here in Southern California,” Pimlott said. “We don’t go out of fire season. Since January there’s been more than 400 fires. Generally there are zero or only a few.”
As if in response to the fire officials’ concerns, last week’s cool week turned unseasonably warm this week, and a Santa Ana wind advisory was issued Monday with high wind warnings for Tuesday and Red Flag warnings through Wednesday.
Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone stressed the cooperation and partnerships that exist among the public safety agencies in order to provide necessary protection from wildland fires.
The continuing use of Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base and its proximity to the mountains is critical, and there is no better demonstration of that than during the 2013 Mountain Fire. Stone was instrumental in preventing the shifting of the Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base to March Air Base.
He announced that the long-promised expansion of Hemet’s airfield should be approved within months and work beginning next year.
“The board fully supports the work of the [Mountain Area Safety Taskforce] and the [Mountain Communities] Fire Safe Council to prepare for emergencies like the Mountain and Silver fires,” Stone said. “But I can’t stress enough the need for wildland fire preparation.”
Forest Service Region 5 (Pacific Southwest) Fire Chief Shauna Lagarza also stressed the increase in fire danger and noted how smoothly the evacuation of the Hill occurred last summer due to the agencies’ cooperation and preparation.
“History repeats itself and last year’s major fires are a reminder for the future,” said County Fire Chief John Hawkins. “We have to be fire-ready. As the population grows in the wildland urban interface, I’m concerned. Property owners must follow the public resource code and create the 100-foot clearance around their parcels and make their properties safe.”