El Niño rains creating dangerous wildfire season

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RANCHO SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Cal Fire officials announced Thursday that the 2016 wildfire season promises to be one a bad one -- and El Niño is only making it worse.

“Recent rains have spurred a lot of growth in the grass but as we get closer to summer, the grass will go brown and that turns into light fuels,” said CalFire Chief Tony Mecham.

The light fuels are where most fires spark.

“All it takes is carbon particles from the car, a cigarette or even welding,” Mecham said.

On top of those fuels, trees and brush are extremely dry.

“The rains are not going to bring them back. Over 70 percent of the trees in the backcountry are dead from the drought,” Mecham said.

That's why residents must be alert and prepared.

“We remember 2003 and 2007. The fire in this region can go anywhere in the county, so cut grasses and maintain it,” said County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

Residents are reminded to maintain 100 feet of defensible space around your home. The space not only protects your home but others, too.

“It’s also keeping a fire that starts in your home from getting into the brush and burning the neighborhood down,” Mecham said.

CalFire crews spent the winter months clearing brush, conducting controlled burns and maintaining fire truck trails. CalFire has also increased staff with 30 additional firefighters. Air tankers came on board at the Ramona Airport at the beginning of April.

Supervisor Jacob said San Diego County is more prepared than it’s ever been.

“The county alone has spent well over $350 million for more equipment, more personnel,” Jacob said.

Three new firefighting helicopters have joined the aerial squad at Ramona, but Jacob said what’s still missing is the DC-10.

“The U.S. Forest Service, unfortunately, will not allow the DC-10s to be based out of Ramona,” Jacob said.

Jacob said she will continue to fight for the jumbo firefighting jets.

“Ramona is our aerial attack base for the region so we still need the forest service to step up and do their part and stop the excuses,” said Jacob.

Firefighters said as always, residents remain the first line of defense in the event of a wildfire. They also warn if it comes down to life or loss, life will always win.

“If our firefighters make the assessment that the homeowner hasn’t done their clearance and that it’s too dangerous, we’re telling our firefighters to leave,” Mecham said.

To learn about preparing and better safeguarding your home, residents can visit ReadySanDiego.org or ListoSanDiego.org.