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Severe drought causes concern for an early start to fire season

CENTRAL COAST, Calif. (KION-TV) -- With little rain coming up in the forecast and extra dry vegetation, California could be seeing an early start to fire season.

The first three months of the year have started to feel like summer, creating similar conditions to last year which saw fierce wildfire activity in Spring.

California is currently in the driest spell in the past 128 years and 37.3 million people are currently affected by drought conditions.

READ MORE: California city requiring residents to cut water usage by 10%

These severe drought conditions could bring fire season closer and closer.

After last year's CZU Lightning Complex Fire in August, people who live in the Santa Cruz mountains are anxious about fire season.

Many were forced to evacuate and stay away from the area for roughly three weeks.

READ MORE: Size of drought in US increased by the area of California in the past month

Some were scared because the traffic caused by the evacuation in the area made for a longer escape.

“That was nerve-wracking, being able to see the glow above the mountains and not knowing like, 'Oh my gosh is the fire going to get to us before we can get out'," said Emily Johnson, Boulder Creek resident.

Even though many families such as Johnson's were able to leave on time, she said they are traumatized by the experience.

“I’m definitely nervous, any sign of fire, any smell of fire. Even my 8-year-old is like,’ Mom I smell
smoke',” said Johnson.

Although the moisture levels in the local vegetation are extremely low, CAL FIRE said it hasn't been enough of a reason for them to call an early start to fire season.


READ MORE: Wildfire sparks, threatening structures southwest of Solvang

“When we look at those larger fires that happened and the conditions that were set in the beginning when those fires began when they started, those variables will be driven by whatever happens at that moment, "said Mike Meddles, Assistant Chief of the CAL FIRE San Benito-Monterey Unit. "So do I think we're going to have a worse fire season or a comparable fire season. It’s too early to tell.”

Some people living in the Santa Cruz Mountains said that although beautiful, the area that surrounds them could be dangerous.

“Fires are getting worst and we have to be ready. I mean the trees all around us, those are good fuels for fire. So we got to keep that in mind," said Evan Seligman, Ben Lomand resident.

Seligman said that since his father is a San Jose Fire Captain, his family would be leaving two days prior to the main evacuation if another fire were to happen.

Other families are going to have to do their best if the time comes.


READ MORE: Cal Fire has two fires under control in Santa Cruz mountains 

“We have bags ready to go. We’re always prepared. We went out and bought a ton of camping stuff because we didn’t know if we’d be able to get a hotel or not. So we have that, that we could just throw in the car at any time and head out," said Johnson.

In the coming weeks, CAL FIRE has planned to carefully watch the weather patterns and precipitation levels.

Meddles said that more seasonal firefighters are supposed to become in next month, but the department has yet to set an official date.

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Joronica Vinluan

Reporter/ Weekend Producer for KION News Channel 5/46

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