California officials prepare for worst as historic drought deepens wildfire risk

From The Guardian UK:

Severe lack of rain and sun-scorched earth means that when it comes to fire risks, California is now in a class of its own

in Auburn, Wednesday 19 March 2014

California is facing wildfires “outside of any normal bounds” as a historic drought turns drying brush and trees into a perfect tinderbox, officials have warned. The state recorded 665 wildfires from 1 January, about three times the average of 225 for this time of year, according to figures compiled by Cal Fire, the state’s department of forestry and fire protection.

Each day without heavy rain deepened the risks of a catastrophic fire season and made it hard to deal with more wildfires if and when they broke out, officials warned. John Laird, the secretary for natural resources, told the Guardian: “This is going to be a fire season outside any normal bounds. Anything could happen at any time.”

Although the wildfire season does not officially start until May in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, locals are adjusting to life on a year-round frontline.

“This is the first time it really hit home that we have this danger,” said Annette Lambert, who lives with her husband and two young children on top of a thickly wooded slope with spectacular canyon views. More than 200 communities across the state, including those overlooking Auburn, were designated fire-risk zones in the drought.

The Lambert family knew they were entering a potentially dangerous area 10 years ago when they built on land covered by oak, pine, and evergreen manzanita shrubs.

The area, called Meadow Vista, meanders along the hilltops along a road too narrow for a conventional fire engine. Most of the homes are surrounded by trees and manzanitas; keep chicken coops or horses. Some of the houses were situated in such a way as to channel fire to straight up to the back door, according to fire inspectors.

“We got it from the shape of the land that fire could course right up the hill and was going to be an issue for us, and a risk that we would have to deal with,” said Lambert. “But we loved the trees.”

They had trouble finding homeowners’ insurance because the house lies more than a mile from the nearest fire hydrant.

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