YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


County's Fire Season Opens Today

Danger: While showers are expected this morning, officials are gearing up for a long, dry summer, when threat of runaway blazes is greater.


Don't let a few sprinkles fool you.

Fire season officially opens today across Ventura County. And despite a forecast of a few light showers, which are expected to taper off this morning, fire officials are gearing up for a long, dry summer.

"We want people to know that as we get into our hotter months, the fire danger is higher," said Joe Luna, a spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

For the next six months, firefighters called to even the smallest blaze will turn out in larger numbers and with more equipment at their disposal.

Luna said the stepped-up response--paired with a June 1 deadline for homeowners to clear their land of heavy brush and weeds--has proved successful in reducing the risk of brush fires in past years.

And of course weather plays a key role.

Rainfall totals for Ventura County are a few inches below normal for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service. But the amount of precipitation since Oct. 1 is about 3 inches more than what the county had by May last year, said meteorologist Gary Ryan.

"All things considered, we didn't come off too badly this winter," Ryan said. "You can kind of tell that by the amount of greenery on the hills and the fact that the reservoirs are in pretty good shape."

A 40% chance of scattered showers was forecasted for Ventura County late Monday night and into Tuesday morning, Ryan said. Some areas were expected to receive as much as a half an inch of rain.

"We are going to get some showers out of it--there is no doubt about that," Ryan said.

Skies are expected to clear by early afternoon and the rest of the week should be sunny and breezy, Ryan said. By the weekend, temperatures should return to the upper 70s and low 80s.

Fire season traditionally runs from mid-May to mid-November, although dry conditions extended last season through January.

The county Fire Department responded to 153 brush fires in 1999, up from 126 the year before. Firefighters battled 25 fires in December alone--compared with just five in December 1998.

The worst of those started Dec. 21, when strong winds whipped an Ojai Valley brush fire out of control. The blaze destroyed one home, burned more than 4,000 acres and cost more than $5 million to suppress.

Two Ojai teenagers--including the police chief's son--were indicted by the Ventura County Grand Jury on felony charges of reckless burning. Authorities say Brett Schwermer and Jonathan Barrett, both 18, started the Ranch fire while setting off illegal fireworks.

A trial for both teenagers is set to begin next week.

Barrett, a senior at Nordhoff High School, is the son of Ventura County Sheriff's Department Capt. James Barrett, who serves as Ojai's police chief.

Fire officials say warm, mountainous areas of the county, such as Ojai, are traditionally the most susceptible to large, devastating blazes.

Luna cautioned hikers and others who venture into the county's back country this summer to use extreme caution with campfires and cigarettes during fire season and to report any suspicious activity by possible arsonists to authorities.

Los Angeles Times Articles