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As the weather heats up and the ground gets drier, firefighters are on the lookout for homes with defensible space – 100 feet clearance around the property. Chuck and Linda Newman lost a garage in the 2003 Old Fire. Looking back on their preparations, they say hindsight is 20-20. Fire officials began Wildfire Awareness Week with a plea to homeowners to clear the brush around their property. Craig Fiegener reports from San Bernardino for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on May 8, 2012.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) held a news conference Tuesday as part of Wildfire Awareness Week to help prepare the public for the hot summer months and impending wildfires.
“For us it’s that opportunity to get together with our communities and serve as a public reminder to help them protect their homes,” said Chief Julie Hutchinson with CAL FIRE.
From May 6 to 12 CAL FIRE will be holding events around the state in an effort to get fire safety information out to the public.
“This week, we should all do our part to raise public awareness of the coming fire season and take steps to protect lives, homes and families in the event of a wildfire," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a prepared statement.
California has fallen victim to thousands of wildfires year after year -- averaging 4,376 fires, with more than $100 million in fire-related damages and 943 structures destroyed in the last five years, according to CAL FIRE.
In the last decade, 2007 was the worst year for the state, with more than 4,000 homes destroyed and numerous lives lost to fires.
Los Angeles County felt its worst year in 2008 during the Sayre fire in Sylmar. It lasted a little over a week, burned more than 11,000 acres and destroyed 479 residences in the area, according to CAL FIRE.
Hutchinson, who has nearly 30 years with CAL FIRE, said she has noticed more people living in rural wildlife areas, causing firefighters to change the way that they would normally fight wildfires.
“There are now more people and homes to protect,” Hutchinson said.
Along with climate pattern changes in the last decade, it has “really challenged and changed things.”
Although, most people are familiar with the term “fire season,” Hutchinson said that the season is elusive; it can change year to year and sometimes last the entire year.
“These days it’s a year-round deal for us now,” inspector Tony Imbrenda from the Los Angeles County Fire Department said. “We’re seeing wildfires year-round. We’re seeing them when we thought we wouldn’t. It isn’t conventional wisdom anymore.”
In the past, the LAFD would give a May 1 deadline to people living near wildlife areas to meet inspection guidelines to fire-safe their home and surrounding land. Nowadays, depending on heavy or light rain during the winter months, the deadline can change.
CAL FIRE and the LAFD recommend homeowners create 100 feet between the home and brush—called defensible space -- and harden the home by reinforcing weak spots on the outside of the structure.
Officials warned the public that fire burns more quickly uphill because rising flames preheat the brush above it.
“Over 90 percent of fires are caused by people, some of that is arson but a significant amount of that is accidentally caused fires,” Hutchinson said.
This year’s dry winter, even with the late spring rain, will allow for a lot of vegetation to burn during the hot summer months, she said.
Imbrenda said the biggest thing is for residents to have a plan in action and know where to and when to evacuate.
Homeowners who need help preparing for wildfires can visit readyforwildfire.org where a wildfire action plan can be located along with the “Ready, Set, Go” video provided by CAL FIRE.