Rain won’t slow fire’s chances 

Wet weather that has soaked the Bay Area in recent weeks will not spare the region from major wildfires, fire authorities said, it will only delay any possible start to them.

Daniel Berlant, spokesman with Cal Fire, said California’s Mediterranean-type climate provides the perfect conditions to spark wildfires with the extra brush that has grown throughout the state, whether is has been a wet winter
or not.

“More rain means additional growth,” he said. “The rain will increase moisture, but it doesn’t take much to dry it out.”

More than 450,000 acres burned last year, Berlant said. In 2008, though, nearly 1.6 million acres of land was burned by wildfires, a record.

Berlant said it’s not a matter of if, but when fires will begin to burn.

To prevent homes from becoming casualties of a wildfire, Berlant said, Cal Fire encourages residents to remove the extra growth now when the weather is still cool and the ground is still wet.

“The brush dries quickly,” he said. “Removing it at the wrong time with the wrong equipment and the slightest spark can create a fire.”

Cal Fire requires homes in wooded areas to have a perimeter of at least 100 feet that is cleared of brush and debris that could be fuel to any wildfire.

Roughly 94 percent of fires that burned California’s land since Cal Fire began keeping records 80 years ago, were caused by humans, Berlant said.

But it has been several decades since San Mateo County has had a major fire, Berlant said. He warned of homeowners becoming complacent with the rain, however.

“But brush becomes very dry and it burns very fast,” Berlant said.

According to the National Weather Service, more than 20.71 inches of rain has fallen at the San Francisco International Airport since July 1. Between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009, only 14.62 inches of rain fell.

Millbrae-San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag said his crews continue training in case of a fire locally or elsewhere in the state they need to help battle.

“We’ve been fairly lucky the past several years and not had a major fire,” Haag said. “But as we speak, crews are training on what to do during large brush fires.”

Deputy Chief Kathleen Lineberry of the Cal Fire Santa Cruz-San Mateo Unit said while crews will be staffed full-time on trucks by June 1, she hoped it would be a mellow fire season.

“It would be nice to have a season off,” she said, “but you never know, which is why we have to be prepared.”

Burning notice

How fires have affected the state, as well as the weather in the Bay Area:

107 Acres burned so far this year
450,000 Acres burned in 2009
1.6 million Acres burned in 2008
20.17 Inches of rain at San Francisco International Airport from July 1 through May 1
14.62 Inches of rain from July 2008 through June 2009
15.49 Inches of rain from July 2007 through June 2008

Source: Cal Fire and National Weather Service

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