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As summer starts, officials say drought ensures another big wildfire

State, local officials fear one of the worst fire seasons ever in Calif. amid prolonged drought
'It's not if, it's when we have that large wildfire,' CalFire captain warns ahead official start of summer

Local and state officials Friday painted a dire portrait of what's to come as the state moves into what they say will be one of the worst fire seasons ever. 

With California in the grip of a prolonged drought that has only worsened in recent months, the start of summer this weekend has fire safety officials sweating.

"The drought has created a tinderbox," Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) said at a news conference Friday.

On Thursday, the National Weather Service announced that 33% of the state is now facing exceptional drought conditions, compared to 25% last week.

Every part of California remains in what is considered severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In fact, the drought has made fire season year-round, although officials said they expect the summer to be a peak time for wildfires.

"From here on in, it only gets drier and more dangerous," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Already, crews have responded to nearly 2,300 wildfires across California that have burned a combined 17,000 acres. 

In the state budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday, legislators included $90 million for additional firefighting capabilities, $13 million for the California Conservation Corps to expand fuel and vegetation management programs, and $10 million in grants for local firefighting agencies.

Still, officials warned that property owners will need to take their own steps to gird against the dangerous fire season.

Officials recommended removing flammable plants, landscaping, woodpiles or even objects such as brooms from within 100 feet of homes. They also suggested cleaning roofs and gutters to prevent embers -- which officials said are a huge ignition vulnerability -- from landing on pine needles or other flammable material.

Wildfires are most likely to occur in the afternoon, so gardening or use of heavy machinery is safest to do early in the morning or evening, officials said. People should make sure they have a plan in the event of a fire, have supplies and are well-informed.

"It's not if, it's when we have that large wildfire," said Mike Mohler, captain of CalFire's southern region.

For breaking news in Los Angeles and the Southland, follow @Caitlin__Owens, or email her at caitlin.owens@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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