Cal Fire has a message for North Coast residents: Fire season isn’t over and shows no signs of ending.
Earlier his week, Cal Fire suspended the winter burn season until further notice in the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit, which covers Sonoma, Lake, Napa and portions of Colusa, Solano and Yolo counties.
And Cal Fire has added five additional seasonal firefighters to the Unit so the agency can staff additional engines if necessary.
The Glen Ellen station is not currently staffed, but Cal Fire has a station always staffed in Petaluma and has staffed an additional station in Santa Rosa that’s usually closed at this time, to help cover the area.
Suzie Blankenship, a Cal Fire fire prevention specialist in the Unit, said that in November and December 2012, Cal Fire doused five vegetation fires in the Unit, while this year, in the same two-month span, that number went up to 91 vegetation fires. “That’s a huge increase,” she said.
“This fire season is extended longer than ever,” she said. “Usually, fire season is over by late November. But fire season has not closed this year,” she emphasized.
Blankenship did say the Santa Rosa air squadron is closed for the season, so no air tankers are available, and the nearest helicopter is at Boggs Mountain in Lake County. “Mendocino County also has a helicopter and Cal Fire could hire more,” she added.
In season, Cal Fire staffs 21 fire stations in the six-county area and that doesn’t include the personnel that Napa County hires to staff its rural stations.
A lack of rain, dry brush, low humidity and other factors led the Unit chiefs to put the burn suspension in place.
Agriculture, land management, fire training and other industrial type burning may proceed if a Cal Fire official inspects the burn site and issues a Cal Fire LE-5 Permit to specifically exempt an open burn from this suspension. Campfires are allowed in designated campgrounds or in established facilities on private property with landowner permission and jurisdictional authority. Persons burning under a Cal Fire LE-5 Permit must also check with their regional air quality management district for additional regulations and requirements.
Blankenship said the burn suspension will be in effect until it starts raining again.
“We’re still getting fires that are equipment caused or by carelessness,” she said. “And we try to get in front of any escaped burns.”
She wanted to remind residents to properly dispose of ashes from wood stoves or fireplaces. She said people should put coals in a metal bucket with a top – and pour water over them.
“Fire season has not closed,” she emphasized.
“We need rain.”