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Southern California bracing for fire season

July 13, 2009 | 10:06 am

The fire season may have gotten off to a slow start in June, but it’s starting to flare up now in Southern California, where temperatures today could reach 100 degrees and above in some valleys. Conditions elsewhere are expected to be mostly warm and sunny.

The fire danger level for the Angeles National Forest was raised Sunday from high to very high, and the two largest forest fires so far this year have started within the last two weeks, said Dee Dechert, a spokeswoman for the Angeles National Forest.

“This is just letting the public know it’s getting bad,” Dechert said.

Today should be mostly warm and sunny in Southern California with temperatures expected to reach 100 degrees and above in some of the valleys.

Though the warning is not a cause for concern -- the next highest level, extreme, means no open fires on forest lands -- it’s a good time to warn people of the dangers since 91% of forest fires are caused by humans.

“You have to play by the rules because it could get ugly,” Dechert said. “Fire runs faster than you do. It’s a public awareness issue.”

Precautions to take include not parking over flammable grass, extinguishing all campfires and only barbecuing in permitted areas. Since May 17, firefighters have responded to 79 wildfires in and around the Angeles National Forest area, including the Island fire and the Tujunga fire, the two largest fires of the year.

The Island fire broke out July 1 and burned about 70 acres, while the Tujunga fire, which started July 5, scorched 210 acres. The causes of both fires are still under investigation.

Normally, firefighters are running off to Washington and Oregon by this time, but a moist June has made for a slow start to the fire season, Dechert said.

“There haven’t been the number of fires nationally that there are normally at this time,” Dechert said.

Because of the slow start, Dechert said the National Forest Service is better equipped to handle whatever comes its way.

Devin Gales, a spokesman with the Los Angeles Fire Department, said people residing in brush areas should maintain a 175- to 200-foot brush clearance around their homes to protect against blazes, such as the one that burned about 80 acres last week near the Getty Center in West Los Angeles. High grass, weeds and trees should be trimmed, he said.

Capt. Mike Brown, a public information officer for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said the combination of high temperatures, slight winds and dry brush makes a perfect breeding ground for a fire.

He said areas around Malibu and the mountains near La Cañada Flintridge, which is densely populated, are more susceptible to fires. People should use precautions when using any open flame, he said.

“Be mindful of the extreme dry brush that we have out there,” he said.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz