A cig­a­rette, a car back­fire: Small sparks make big fires

Manteca Bulletin - - State -

SACRA­MENTO (AP) — A care­lessly dis­carded cig­a­rette, a downed power line, a car’s back­fire or a chain­saw’s pull. Just about any­thing could have started any one of the wild­fires now tear­ing through North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, au­thor­i­ties said.

“Ev­ery spark is going to ignite a fire,” said Ken Pim­lott, the state’s top fire­fighter. He said the risk re­mains “ex­treme for new starts.”

Pim­lott said Tues­day that in­ves­ti­ga­tors are look­ing into the causes, but no de­ter­mi­na­tion has been made at any of the sites of ma­jor wild­fires blaz­ing in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Au­thor­i­ties said 22 were burn­ing Wednesday.

Pim­lott, the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion direc­tor, said “98 per­cent” of all wild­fires are started by peo­ple and it’s un­likely light­ning is to blame for any of the fires that ex­ploded overnight Sun­day, killing at least 21 peo­ple so far.

Cal­i­for­nia’s most dan­ger­ous wild­fire sea­son comes in au­tumn, when sum­mer heat and in­sects have left brush dead and dried out, and winds are es­pe­cially hot, dry and strong.

“This is tra­di­tion­ally Cal­i­for­nia’s worst time for fires,” Pim­lott said.

Pim­lott said firefighters typ­i­cally re­spond to 300 blazes a week dur­ing this sea­son, but nearly all are ex­tin­guished quickly and with min­i­mal dam­age. It’s un­usual to have many ma­jor fires burn­ing at once, he said.

How­ever, con­di­tions were ripe for wild­fires in Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try after record rains last win­ter cre­ated an abun­dance of dry veg­e­ta­tion, which com­bined with low hu­mid­ity and un­usu­ally high winds gust­ing to 79 mph to cre­ate fast-mov­ing in­fer­nos.

Pim­lott told re­porters Wednesday that the state was still feel­ing the ef­fects of five years of drought and that the win­ter rain was gone, leav­ing be­hind crit­i­cally dry veg­e­ta­tion to fuel fires.

None of the ma­jor fires has been con­tained. They are spread over a 200-mile re­gion north of San Fran­cisco from Napa in the south to Red­ding in the north, tax­ing fire­fight­ing re­sources.

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