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San Diego Fire Officials Expect Long Hot Summer

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Summer is two months away, but San Diego fire officials are worried.  Four brush fires last weekend may be the start of a long fire season.  KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce has more.

A couple of scorching weekends with record heat this month, combined with dry conditions has set the stage for a nasty fire season.

Maurice Luque is with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
Luque: We have some really serious concerns and I think these concerns are shared both at the local level, the regional level and the state level, that this could be a worse fire season than we had last year. And we thought last year was bad.
Early winter rains created optimal growing conditions for grass throughout San Diego County.

Luque says last Sunday's fire on the western edge of Penasquitos Canyon is an example of how those grasses increase fire risk.
Luque: There wasn't a lot of heavy brush or chaparral there it was grass. And we saw how it went from just a few acres to a hundred within a very short period of time necessitating some 250 homes to be given precautionary evacuation notices. And this was just kind of a small situation.
Luque says it's not just dry grasses that are causing fire concern. Much of the county's vegetation is bone dry.
Luque: They go out an measure what they call live fuel moisture levels in vegetation. In other words, how much moisture do those plants have and they measure it. And it's at a thirty year low right now out there. Worse than last year even.
He says despite fires that burned brush in 2003 and last year in the county, there's no shortage of fuel. 
Luque: People shouldn't relax. They shouldn't think oh just because a lot burned in the last fires and the Cedar Fire that there's nothing out there to burn. There's plenty out there in the county to burn and those areas have a lot of homes and development.
Luque advises homeowners to thin brush around homes, remove debris from gutters and keep a fire extinguisher handy when working outdoors.

Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

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