By LENORE RUTHERFORD
The Tuolumne-Calaveras unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection will go to peak summertime staffing Monday morning.
That's when the CDF firefighting and administrative staff will increase from about 130 to 250 people and stay that way until autumn storms lessen fire dangers, said Unit Chief Fred McVay.
A spotter plane and two air tankers will be based at Columbia Air Attack Base starting Monday in addition to the helicopter already there. Two bulldozers will also be based within the unit for use in fighting wildfires.
The number of fire engines will be increased from 15 to 21.
The unit has 15 fire stations in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
It also has use of 10 trained inmate crews of about 18 people each, five based at Vallecito Conservation Camp and five at Baseline Conservation Camp.
The inmate crews are available year-round. When fire danger is low and they aren't needed for flood control, they work on various public projects for government agencies.
"They take their fire fighting training very seriously all year long," said McVay, "but they have the ability to do many other things. There's a lot of skill on those (inmate) crew buses."
Southern California has been in a summertime firefighting mode virtually all winter, said McVay, because it had significantly less rain than normal during the 2001-02 winter.
"We had 80 to 90 percent of normal precipitation here," said McVay, "so it's not as bad, but we are a statewide resource. When we have to send equipment and people to other areas, that could affect the travel times to some fires here.
"On the other hand, we are fortunate to always have good resources for an initial attack, and great cooperation with local governments and fire (agencies)."