Walker Fire

Photo from June 16 of the Walker Fire in Calaveras County. 

This summer’s fire season is continuing to heat up in the Mother Lode, the Stanislaus National Forest, and up and down California with more fires and more acreage burned statewide so far this year compared to last year, a spokesperson for Cal Fire said Monday.

Statewide from Jan. 1 to July 26, Cal Fire personnel had responded to 4,465 fires that have burned a total of 59,170 acres, Emily Kilgore with the Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit said. Compared to the same period in 2019, Cal Fire firefighters and other personnel responded to 2,678 fires for a total acreage of 22,860.

This past weekend was slow for actual fires in spite of heat in the 90s Sunday and Saturday. Over the weekend, TCU firefighters and other personnel responded to three false alarm fires, 33 medical calls, three electrical hazmat calls and two emergency assists, Kilgore said.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has not changed Cal Fire’s initial attack goals to keep 95 percent of all wildland fires at 10 acres or less, Kilgore said. Preparing for the current fire season, Cal Fire administrators and health staff rolled out early guidance and direction to firefighters to keep them and their families safe. So far, Cal Fire TCU personnel have remained healthy and fit for duty.

In the 1,400-square-mile Stanislaus National Forest this fire season, federal custodians estimate they are seeing “upwards of three times the number of visits we’ve seen in recent years,” Diana Fredlund, a Forest Service said Monday.

Fire season remains dry and hot, with frequent lightning activity, and there have been about 20 lightning-strike fires so far, Fredlund said.

Current fire restrictions at all elevations mean campfires are only allowed in developed campgrounds, Fredlund said. Campfires are not authorized this year in dispersed camping or in wilderness areas. 

In the past 10 years, 25 percent of all California wildfires have been caused by escaped campfires. Drought concerns and pandemic worries for firefighters and communities have led to greater vigilance so far this year, Fredlund said.

“Firefighters and local communities are exposed to risks from wildfire every year, but this year we must also consider the pandemic and take steps to reduce exposure to the disease,” Fredlund said. “Our primary response strategy for 2020 continues to be aggressive initial attack, to include using local resources from our partners. Our goal is rapid containment to minimize the number of large wildfires.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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