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Palos Verdes fire underscores dangerous fire season in California

April 25, 2013|By Andrew Blankstein and Kate Mather

A small brush fire in Rancho Palos Verdes on Thursday underscored warnings by firefighters that Southern California is facing a dangerous fire season.

Los Angeles County firefighters were battling a brush fire that had flared up Thursday afternoon near Palos Verdes Drive and Terranea Way in Rancho Palos Verdes, near the Terranea resort. The fire was about an acre in size, a fire spokesman said, and no evacuations had been ordered.

In the hills of Los Angeles County, tests show the brush is drying out at a significantly quicker rate this year because of the lack of rain. In Ventura County, firefighters say the parched conditions are what they typically see in June or July. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which handles fire protection for about a third of the state, said it has dealt with 150 more blazes so far this year compared with 2012.

Cal Fire announced it was deploying fire crews early this year in some areas, including the Inland Empire, because of what it described as "extreme" dry conditions.

Los Angeles has seen only 5.14 inches of rain this year; normal would be 14 inches. Forecasters are increasingly skeptical of any significant storms on the way before summer.

The Angeles National Forest is raising its fire danger level from moderate to high  Friday because of the virtual absence of rain so far this year and forest lands full of tall, dry grasses.

Nathan Judy, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said the designation is an effort to raise public awareness about just how vulnerable the forest is to a potentially devastating and fast-spreading wildfire.

While the raised fire danger level does not mean new campfire restrictions, Judy said visitors are urged to be especially careful, including making sure they do not park their vehicles on tall grasses. He noted that last year’s 4,192-acre Williams fire was caused by a car parked on top of dry vegetation.

Though dry lightning has sparked some wildfires, virtually all fires in the Angeles National Forest are related to human activity, Judy said.

“In the Angeles, over 90% of wildfires are caused by human factors,” he said, adding that some of those factors are people carelessly tossing a cigarette or not minding a campfire, as well as arson.

Judy said the vegetation in the forest is becoming increasingly dry, raising concerns. Last weekend, a fire started in the foothills above Monrovia and caused the evacuation of about 200 homes. Fire crews battled successfully to keep it from spreading into the Angeles National Forest’s dry chaparral.

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