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High heat raises fire risk

Temperatures, rainfall, staffing levels are all far from ideal, raising the danger.

July 11, 2012|By Veronica Rocha, veronica.rocha@latimes.com
  • Glendale Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said the region has seen twice as many red flag warnings compared to last year, and the amount of acreage burned in the region has also doubled.
Glendale Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said the region has… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

This fire season will bring a host of harder-than-usual challenges due to higher temperatures, below-average rainfall and fewer firefighting resources.

That's according to Glendale Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, who on Tuesday warned the public that fire season had already begun.

Speaking at the City Council meeting, Scoggins noted that the region has seen twice as many red flag warnings compared to last year, and the amount of acreage burned in the region has also doubled.

Firefighters from two regions in Southern California met June 18 to discuss weather forecasts, resources and their deployments and potential challenges that could arise if several fires start at the same time.

Just a day earlier, three brush fires broke out across the Southland, including in the Waterman Canyon area of the San Bernardino National Forest, Montebello and a smaller blaze about a mile from the Hollywood sign. Those fires broke the same day the U.S. Forest Service raised the fire danger level at Angeles National Forest from “high” to “very high.”

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Fewer firefighters are available for deployment because Scoggins said many agencies have budget constraints.

As a result of decreased staffing, the same level of resources available to help battle the massive Station fire in 2009 may not be available now, he added.

“We may not have that type of response if those fires break out this year,” he said. “There aren't as many as firefighters on the street.”

Temperatures have also shot up recently, and rainfall has totaled just 8 inches this year — about half of what is expected, Scoggins said.

High temperatures have scorched the nation this year, particularly in the Midwest, where massive fires have destroyed homes and consumed thousands of acres.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich became the latest elected official to urge the U.S. Forest Service to lift its ban on nighttime aerial firefighting, which could help free up resources in the initial attack, experts say.

“It is imperative that significant structural changes are made before the next major wildfire destroys more of our national forests, personal property or any more lives,” Antonovich said in a statement.

Last week, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) called the Forest Service's prolonged review of the ban “beyond negligence.”

Due to the challenges firefighters could face this fire season, Scoggins called on residents to better prepare their homes, including annual brush clearance, as well as to establish fire exit plans for their families.

“If [the fire] starts getting close to us, we want you to pack your valuables in your vehicles, contact your families and start letting them know what is going on in case you have to leave,” he said.

The Fire Department began inspecting hillside communities for overgrown brush on May 1 in an effort to ensure that it's cleared by Aug. 1.

“Here in Glendale, we can help ourselves,” Scoggins said. “We can be ready. We can get set and we can go when it's time to put our plans in action.”

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