The local fire season has gotten off to a roaring start compared to last year, with the Cal Fire command center responding to 127 fires in San Luis Obispo County since May 1.
A lack of rainfall, hot weather and back-to-back drought years have increased the potential for intense fires this year, Cal Fire officials said.
There were 4,129 wildland fires statewide from January through June this year, compared to 3,473 during the same time last year, according to statistics provided by Cal Fire in San Luis Obispo.
The fire season started much earlier than normal, and fires are being sparked by little things that ordinarily wouldn’t set them off at this time of year, said Cal Fire Batallion Chief Tom McEwen. Discarded cigarettes, chains dragging behind a car or automobile mechanical failures can cause sparks leading to fires, he said.
One recent fire at the base of Cuesta Grade was caused by a hot piece of metal from a passing vehicle’s brakes.
With more dryness, fires that normally just burn grass this time of year are now spreading to brush, which burns much hotter, McEwen said.
“We’re seeing burning conditions that are typical to late August or September,” McEwen said.
As a result, it’s not unusual to see several fires a day.
“I was working a couple days ago, and we had five fires in the course of three hours,” said Tina Rose, public information officer for Cal Fire.
A recent South County fire quickly spread to 4 acres.
“With the Pismo Dunes fire, that’s unheard of,” Rose said. “The brush and the trees burnt like it was the end of November.”
Two years of drought back to back have increased the potential for intense fires this year, according to Alan Peters, fire prevention division chief.
Cal Fire hasn’t implemented any new plans to prevent fire or increase awareness other than the usual public posting of signs, he said.
Cal Fire advises people to mow weeds and dry grass before 10 a.m., when the humidity is higher and the temperatures are cooler. It also suggests following proper guidelines for burning debris and using campfires. McEwen said drivers should keep their cars serviced, so faulty parts don’t spark fires.
Small acts of prevention can save the county from a lot of harm later, Peters said. The public needs to be aware of how extremely dried out the county is this year because that awareness is the best way to prevent fires, he said.
Staff reporter Pat Pemberton contributed to this story.