Officials expect worst fire season yet

Authorities say this fire season could be one of the worst yet.

The summer has been extraordinarily hot, dry with low humidity and Santa Ana winds, Laguna Beach Fire Department Division Chief Dan Stefano said.

"Those components all together create an alignment that create a significant problem for us," Stefano said.

Since the past couple of years weren't active fire seasons, there are a lot of unburned areas locally, he said, which is a problem throughout the state.

Last weekend Northern California regions reported 900 lightning strikes, sparking more than a dozen fires, CBS San Francisco reported.

As of Wednesday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported 12 active fires and 12 contained fires in the state.

In a statement released Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown stated that Plumas, Shasta and Tehama counties were in a state of emergency. Combined, the fires have consumed more than 60,000 acres, according to the release.

He noted that firefighter wildland training and interagency training are two important components to have when approaching fire season.

"The collective training is probably the highest it has ever been," Stefano said.

The Laguna fire department has trained alongside Newport Beach and Costa Mesa fire departments, and frequently works with the Orange County Fire Authority, which provides Laguna with its helicopters.

Laguna Beach developed wildland preplanned maps, as a result of the 1993 fires, which are available on engines and a cache — fire tools and equipment — is available at the department for other responding agencies. The maps divide up the city into parts and provide information such as communication plans, best techniques, water sources and command posts, allowing firefighters who come on to the scene to quickly create a game plan.

As for homeowners, Stefano said enhanced water systems and construction requirements have become important to ward against fire. For example, new homes or greatly remodeled homes require sprinklers inside. Non-combustible construction, protected eaves and safe zones around the home are important, he said.

Laguna Beach County Water District spokesman Christopher Regan said the biggest improvement since the 1993 fires was the two additional reservoirs, which gave the district an additional 8 million gallons of water. Electricity was an issue during the fires as well because when it went out it affected pump stations. For that reason the district purchased fixed and portable generators for emergencies, Regan said. During fire season the district makes it a priority that the reservoirs are topped off at 80% to 100%.

The city also has the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council, puts up red flags throughout the city, including businesses and schools, to make people aware that the Santa Ana winds are blowing. Dennis Grzeskowiak, chair of the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council, said in an email their hope is that motorists and pedestrians will find the flags hard to ignore and will think twice when conducting any activity that could spur a fire.

Anyone in the city can contact the fire department and ask for a wildfire consultation — a firefighter will walk through the home and exterior and point out improvements such as native vegetation, removing combustible materials and creating a clearance.

Laguna Beach fire department can be reached at (949) 497-0700. For more information about the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council, visit lagunacoastfiresafecouncil.org.

Joanna.clay@latimes.com

Twitter: @joannaclay

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