California fires up 53% — active Mountain Area fire season

cgeorge@sierrastar.comJune 25, 2013 

With close to 30 vegetation fires throughout Eastern Madera County during the months of May and June — along with a 1,700-plus acre fire in Mariposa County that threatened many homes — it's as important as ever to be prepared for wildfires this year.

Fire officials are reporting one of the earliest, and most active, fire seasons in years — along with concern of arson in the area.

Of the recent fires, more than a dozen have been in Coarsegold's Yosemite Lakes Park, including a rash of eight fires in three days and a 91-acre fire May 19 on Lilley Mountain Drive that destroyed a home.

"Not all of the fires are suspicious, but yes, we do have an issue with respect to arson in the YLP area," said Nancy Koerperich, Cal Fire unit chief for the Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit, earlier this month at a community meeting in YLP.

Regarding the concern of arson, fire officials said residents can help fire investigators by providing detailed descriptions of suspicious activity. Residents can call a Cal Fire arson hotline at 1-800-47-ARSON.

Karen Guillemin, fire prevention specialist with Cal Fire, said California has 53% more fires this year than last year, and that in a five-year average, there are 90% more.

She said there are "historic low fuel moistures for our area" this year, and that trees in the region have been stressed for years as ground water depletes.

"This is my twenty-third fire season, and I've never seen a May and June this active," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Troy Cheek.

"People need to be vigilant about getting their 100-foot clearance (of weeds and vegetation around their homes) — and doing the right thing in the right way," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Chris Christopherson. "All mowing and weed eating should be done in the morning, not in the afternoon when it's windy or hot."

"I would encourage people to please get their clearance, even if it means clearing more than 100 feet around a structure," said Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, who is also captain of volunteer Station 17 in O'Neals. "Get as much clearance as you can around your house, including getting overhanging limbs away from roofs. That really helps us."

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