Southland gets a preview of its premature fire season

Southern California gets unwanted preview of premature fire season as brush fires break out in five counties

Southern California got an unwanted preview of its premature fire season Thursday as brush fires stoked by winds broke out in five counties.

The region is parched from years of drought and, most recently, Santa Ana winds that sucked up any moisture left from a recent rainstorm, said Phil Rawlings of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"At the end of the day, we're in California, it's a semi-arid area and we're already in four years of drought," Rawlings said. "The grass … is just receptive to burning. We're going to have these small starts and instead of staying small, they turn and they get pretty big pretty fast. Quite honestly, this is par for the course."

The first fire of the day burned about a quarter-acre of brush in Santa Paula in Ventura County. A few hours later, a larger blaze broke out in Whittier, quickly climbing a hillside and burning three acres before firefighters, assisted by water-dropping helicopters, halted its spread.

A six-acre blaze destroyed one house and damaged four others in Riverside County's Jurupa Valley, authorities said.

These days, fire departments are likely to throw more resources at a small brush fire early on to try to keep it from spreading and to minimize damage, Rawlings said. Residents also have a role to play in minimizing the threat of fire, he said.

"This isn't where the forest meets urban environment ... this fire started along a road and the wind carried it," Rawlings said. "It illustrates the point that this can happen if grass is not ... abated to protect your structure. You hate to say that, but it's the truth of the matter."

It took more than 100 firefighters four hours to extinguish the Riverside County blaze.

Meanwhile, small brush fires also broke out in Garden Grove in Orange County and in San Diego. Fire crews quickly extinguished them before they could spread.

"It looks like the fire seasons are starting a couple of months early," said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service. Temperatures are expected to cool and winds should die down, but the humidity is going to remain dangerously low for the coming days, Seto added.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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