It is June, and despite the morning low clouds so typical of the month, our mountain vegetation remains parched. A scant amount of rain has fallen on this area so far in 2013 and as history has demonstrated, that scenario is unlikely to change before November.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has, since Jan. 1, responded to nearly double the number of wildfires it battles during the same period in a typical year, according to a report issued Friday. In the first six months of an average year, Cal Fire is called to 1,110 wildfires. It reports having battled 2,100 to date this year. With hot, dry weather on the horizon, the agency urges everyone to do what they can to prevent catastrophe.
Five years ago, residents in our area had to deal with the terror of the Station fire. Some might be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that because much of the forest was left in ashes, they might be immune to such a dangerous situation for years to come. But experts say invasive weeds and grass that sprout up after previously existing forest vegetation has turned to ash can be even more flammable than the chaparral that formerly stood there.
While firefighting tools have been improved since the August 2009 outbreak of the Station fire — and here we pause in grateful acknowledgment of the belated decision by the U.S. Forest Service to allow the use of helicopters to battle fires during night-time hours — we all remain vulnerable to the fury of an uncontrolled blaze.
There is evidence that a good number of people who own hillside homes take their annual duty to clear vegetation seriously. Otherwise, we would have lost more homes during the Station fire and other conflagrations. Just last month, when a fire consumed acreage in Glendale's Chevy Chase and Glenoaks canyons, all residents escaped safely and their homes remained intact. A city spokesman credited proactive brush clearance on the part of property owners for the good outcome in that event.
But wildfires are part of the natural order of life here. We must not forget that, must never let our guard down. As the dry conditions continue and perhaps worsen, we owe it to our neighbors and ourselves to continually take steps that will mitigate the dangers we face.