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Fire activity up statewide

Posted: December 28, 2012 6:15 p.m.
Updated: December 28, 2012 6:22 p.m.

A freight train makes its way past a brush fire burning near Centre Pointe in Santa Clarita last October. The blaze Oct. 25 was one of the few wildfires in the Santa Clarita Valley in 2012.

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While some western states had a milder-than-normal fire season in 2012, the number of acres burned by wildfires in California was almost seven times that of 2011, statistics show.

California has seen 7,962 fires that have consumed a combined 814,843 acres this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The center tracks data from national, state, county and local jurisdictions.

Last year, the center recorded 7,989 fires that burned a combined 126,854 acres.

A a large chunk of this year’s fire activity came from the lightning-caused Rush Fire that burned 271,911 acres in August, according to the InciWeb Incident Information System, which includes data from the United States Forest Service, National Park Service and U.S. Fire Administration, among others.

California did not have another fire burn more than 76,000 acres the rest of the year.

Julie Hutchinson, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said much of the state’s fire activity over the past year has been in the northern portions of the state.

The Santa Clarita Valley escaped any major wildfires on the scale of the Station Fire in 2009, which burned more than 160,000 acres and killed two firefighters, or the 2007 Buckweed fire, which charred 38,000 acres and destroyed 21 homes locally.

Hutchinson described Southern California’s 2012 fire season as “average or slightly below average” in terms of acres burned.

“Southern California came out relatively well,” Hutchinson said. “Part of that is hopefully people paying attention to the conditions.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Calfire, has responded to 5,798 fires this year that have combined to char 141,154 acres statewide. While this represents a major increase from last year, when the agency responded to 4,585 fires that burned a total of 57,063 acres, it still represents a decrease from the average over the past five years.

The average Calfire season over the past five years has been 5,063 fires burning an average 198,754 acres, according to agency statistics.

Inspector Quvondo Johnson with the Los Angeles County Fire Department said county-specific fire data for the past year is still being compiled and will not be available until February or March.

But anecdotally, Johnson said, there have been less large fires in the county this year than in past years, something he attributed to vigilance on the part of both the department and the public.

“We do believe people have a huge impact on what kind of fire season we have,” Johnson said. “Everyone needs to be diligent and cautious, especially when fire conditions get bad out there.”

While statewide fires burned more than six times as many acres as they did last year, Los Angeles County seems set to emerge from this year largely unscathed.

In 2009, fires combined to blacken 160,962 acres in the county. That number fell to 15,158 acres in 2010 and just 1,857 acres in 2011.

Despite the small acreage, county fires caused roughly $158.3 million in damage in 2011, almost double the $82.7 million in damage in 2010.

Since the city of Santa Clarita does not have its own fire department, it contracts services through the county Fire Department. The county department, in turn, contracts additional services through Calfire in case of a large fire or if there are particularly adverse fire conditions, according to Hutchinson.

A recent example of this partnership came in October, when Santa Ana winds hit the Santa Clarita Valley, prompting high fire hazard warnings. Calfire stationed additional resources nearby to keep fires from spreading, Hutchinson said.

“The more all of our fire resources cooperate, the more each person does their part, the better chance we have of saving homes and, more importantly, saving lives,” Hutchinson said.




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