YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Region

Officials Worried as Fire Season Starts

Ventura County's wet winter and spring mean more vegetation, which could fuel blazes later when summer's heat dries everything out.

June 01, 2003|Lynne Barnes | Times Staff Writer

Fire season opens today in Ventura County and Los Padres National Forest amid worries that the bountiful rainfall over the last several months will increase the danger of out-of-control blazes.

"We have quite a bit more grass than we've had in a few years, and it's drying out quickly, especially in the eastern part of the county and Ojai," said Ventura County Fire Department spokeswoman Sandi Wells. "It could serve as a wick."

Although last year's fire season was relatively mild for the county department, with 198 vegetation fires consuming just over 200 acres, the U.S. Forest Service was hit hard.

The 21,338-acre Wolf fire was sparked June 1 by people firing guns in dry brush near California 33 about 12 miles north of Ojai in Los Padres National Forest. It took two weeks to extinguish at a cost of about $15 million, said Forest Service spokeswoman Kathy Good.

The Forest Service isn't too worried yet this year, because the brush is still drying out at higher elevations after a year that saw greater-than-average rainfall nearly everywhere in the county.

"It's still very wet out there and not likely to burn right now," Good said. "But the grass is starting to cure out. Our fire season builds throughout the summer, reaching its peak in September and October."

The beginning of the fire season means that officials will react to blazes with increased personnel and more equipment. The Forest Service this year is adding an engine in the Lockwood Valley, in addition to those already stationed in or around Ojai, Lake Casitas, Fillmore, Wheeler Gorge, Frazier Park and Lake Piru.

However, the local air fleet has shrunk with the grounding of a C-130 aircraft in Santa Barbara County. That plane was used during the Wolf fire last year but taken out of commission after the crash of a similar aircraft in the Sierra.

The fire season is beginning about two weeks later than usual because of spring rains.

Fire officials are prepared.

Wells warned residents that fireworks, which are one of the top causes of blazes this time of year, are illegal in all parts of the county covered by the county Fire Department.

Los Angeles Times Articles