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Dry vegetation raises fire concerns in Santa Cruz County


FELTON, Calif. (KION--TV) Vegetation flammability across Northern California is near record levels for early April and is approaching mid-summer levels in some areas, according to Climate Scientist Daniel Swain.

Experts are calling low fuel moisture levels with no new growth a "scary sight."

Cal Fire officials in Felton say the reason for the dry vegetation is because of the lack of rains during this season. Things like dry, crackling leaves and twigs are a sign of low fuel moisture levels in the area...they say this is a bad sign for being this early in the year, especially when it comes to controlled fires.

“We have different programs that we have with Cal Fire, one of them being a VMP program where we do prescribe burns on certain properties to minimize the impact of a fire when it does come through," says Cal Fire Battalion Chief Eric Bither.

However, with fire risk being high and after responding to a recent string of fires in the Santa Cruz County area already, Unit Chief Ian Larkin with the San Mateo and Santa Cruz County Cal Fire Unit says they are stepping up their staffing.

“We are already starting to do our transitional staffing this week, we’re a month ahead of schedule so that’s concerning…so far, we’ve only had to request a helicopter, which is a minimal expense," says Larkin.

Chief Larkin explains battling fires can cost anywhere between $4,000 and $5,000 dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars to put out, depending on the scale of the blaze. Right now, they are asking all community members to be cautious in their surroundings.

Cal Fire officials say the fire risk is also high in dry areas where damage from previous fires is still present.

Chief Larkin says some safety tips for the public when handling controlled fires is to have a water source nearby, such as a water hose, having a fire fighting tool like a shovel or rake in case the fire does escape your control and establishing a ring defense barrier made up of bare mineral soil to help reduce the chance of spread. Larkin says it is essential for residents to be prepared with an exit plan sooner rather than later.

Battalion Chief Bither says preparing ahead of time is not just important for protecting people of the community, but also to protect those fighting on the front lines.

“I guess the most difficult thing for me is ensuring the safety of the employees on the fire line, it’s not uncommon for us to be away from home for thirty plus days…at the end of the day we all want to come home to our families," says Bither.

Central Coast / Santa Cruz County / Top Stories / Wildfires

Jocelyn Ortega

Jocelyn Ortega is a multi-media journalist at KION News Channel 5/46.


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