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Crews Anticipate Monster Fire Season

Crews Anticipate Monster Fire Season

Posted - Apr. 28, 2003 at 10:10 p.m.



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John Daley reportingFor starters consider the bottomline: We're in the fifth year of a drought. Then, take a look at other factors like the grasses that are already taking off, thanks to spring rains.

Do the math and it all adds up to a potentially explosive summer, especially along what they call the wildland-urban interface.

It's year five of the drought and things are NOT getting any better. A trio of tricky conditions pose big-time trouble.

One, a wet spring is producing a crop of tall grasses--perfect fuel come fire season.

Two, pine trees weakened by drought are getting hammered by a beetle infestation, making them particularly vunlerable to fire.

Three, after a pair of crashes last summer, the nation's fleet of tankers has been grounded for re-inspection and agencies are scrambling to line up the additional air support for the summer.

Mike Watson of the County's Wildland fire division says last year was tough, but conditions could make this year worse.

"We have a lot of these fuels that are standing up and dead as well as the ones that are lying down and dead and dry. So that's another factor that we're dealing with this year that we weren't in previous seasons," he says.

Because of safety concerns, 11 World War II-era air tankers have been taken out of service. The 32 that remain are getting specialized inspection.

That means helicopters and single-engine planes will have to pick up the slack.

BLM state aviation manager John Burke says, "We'll have to adapt. We don't really have a choice. And I think we can. It's just a matter of changing some tactics and strategy and using the tools that you do have available to you."

The worry is this summer could be a repeat of the last several--dry, smoky and sizzling hot.

We asked, "Does this give you the fear that this could be the worst fire season we've ever had, if things go really poorly?"

"It's definitely a red flag. It's something that wakes us up."

Particularly if you have property near some wildlands, there's plenty you can do in terms of clearing brush and other things to get your home prepared.

The other thing we can all do is to conserve water. It's pretty hard to put fires out without an adequate water supply around.

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