Sonora CA – If things seem drier than normal around the Mother Lode, it’s because they are, according to Cal Fire, which reports that conditions are the worst on record for this time of year.
Cal Fire Unit Forester Adam Frese says the fuel moisture is typically what is found in mid-July, pre-drought.
Live Fuel Moisture (LFM) readings of Chamise and Manzanita, regionally typical chaparral shrubs, are collected twice a month through fire season at two sites, one each in Sonora and Valley Springs, according to Frese. Cal Fire’s May 4 readings show Young Chamise at 125 percent and Old Chamise at 69 for a combined reading of 98. Frese states, as 60 is the critical fuel moisture level for the latter, the current metrics are “almost there.” Young Manzanita readings came in at 159 percent and Old Manzanita at 95 for an average of 122. The current numbers overall, according to Frese, are not only drier than in the past two drought years (including 2013, the year of the Rim Fire), they are similar to 2010 readings taken on July 12. Cal Fire plans to take its second set of monthly readings this Friday, May 15.
“[The LFM report] is one of the reasons why we’ve transitioned to bring people on earlier,” Frese notes. “In the past, we don’t usually go to peak [staffing] until the end of June, first part of July…this year, we will be here before June.”
As the surrounding vegetation continues to get drier, inspectors have become an increasing presence in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. “They are covering a lot of ground, urging people to create defensible space around their homes,” Frese reports. “That’s one of the best things [residents] can do, not only to help protect their house from a wildfire, but if one breaks out, to prevent it from spreading to the wild land or to a neighbor’s property.”
Creating 100 feet of defensible space around residences and outbuildings is not only key for safety, Frese cautions, it is also required by law, with fines ranging up to $500. “We do write citations…after people have been inspected, if they don’t the work, they can be cited and those are expensive fines.” He adds these words to the wise: “As far as properties that aren’t [properly cleared], you know we only have so many resources. So, in a fire, if we come into an area to do structure protection, we’re obviously going to protect the ones that are safe for our personnel — to get in and out of, do the job safely — and also the best ones they have the best chances of defending. So, it is very important for people to clear the space around their homes.”
Literally, a sign of the times, more fire prevention reminder signs are going up; Cal Fire crews are now busily at work on strategically located fuel reduction projects in both counties. “One of the projects that’s probably noticeable is the chipping, along Tuolumne Road, to open that up and give use something to work off of, so we’ve been cooperating with the county on that project,” Frese states.