San Diego-area firefighters worried about fire season, ramping up staff

SAN DIEGO - San Diego-area firefighters have ramped up staffing because of extreme fire conditions statewide.

With dry conditions and the rainy season over, Cal Fire Captain Kendal Bortisser says staffing has gone to peak quicker than ever.

"This situation Mother Nature has handed us has caused us to go on heightened alert earlier than normal," said Bortisser.

Cal Fire has hired 125 extra firefighters statewide and plans to bring on 300 more.

Between Jan. 1 and April 12, 2014, there were 953 fires statewide. Last year during that same timeframe, there were only 377 fires.

On Tuesday, fire crews battled two brush fires near Interstate 805 in Serra Mesa and in Santee.

Wallace Hal reminisced about a brush fire that hit close to home last summer, coming 300 yards away from his front door. The flames burned through 20 acres off Interstate 8 and Los Coches Road in El Cajon.

Hal says he now keeps a defensible space around his home to prevent any fire hazards.

"We were just hoping the palm trees wouldn't catch fire. That was the only concern we really had," said Hal.

Bortisser said, "They had some real challenges. They had the winds, dry fuels, homes nearby … a lot of factors they had to take into consideration when battling this fire."

Cal Fire says they are now prepared for just about anything this fire season. In addition to extra staffing, even their air tankers which would normally be in Sacramento for maintenance were kept in San Diego.

Thirteen stations which Cal Fire normally closes for the winter remained open and they have added extra firefighters to each station.

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