SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Years of drought and a significant build-up of grass from last winter's rains has created dangerous wildfire conditions in San Diego and surrounding areas of the county, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Brian Fennessy said Monday.
In a report delivered to the City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, the chief said people think the winter rains will ease the fire threat this fall.
"Well, it did, in the green-up period in the spring, but all that new growth dies," Fennessy said.
He said the dead grass can carry fire into heavier, drought-stricken vegetation, acting as a kindling of sorts. The conditions have led to a large amount of small roadside fires this year, often caused by malfunctioning catalytic converters in vehicles, he said.
"On top of the five years of drought we experienced, we've got vast accumulations of dead fuel mixed in with this dried, light fuel type," Fennessy said. "I've been doing this nearly 40 years, and I don't know that I've seen the fuels as stricken and as in dire need of moisture as it is now."
His report said the weather forecast calls for little to no rainfall this fall.
Geologist Dr. Pat Abbott walked the trailhead at the base of Cowles Mountain with 10News. "You see all the classic elements; the drying out of flat-top buckwheat, a lot of dried grasses. All the rains we've had this year, a lot of grasses have burned; they don't have a lot of fuel but they burn so fast they're almost like wicks to the denser chaparral. The dark green sushes, shrubbery up there; that's a tremendous amount of stored energy."
According to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, it's more probable than not that temperatures will be warmer than normal through the end of the year, with equal odds that precipitation will be normal.
Through Sunday, Cal Fire has responded to 5,350 fires throughout the state this year, which have scorched more than 230,000 acres. The five-year average for the same time period is nearly 4,000 blazes and 198,000 acres, according to data from Cal Fire, which provides fire protection outside major cities.
While the conditions for wildfires could be risky, the department is adequately staffed and equipped to respond to blazes that break out, Fennessy said. He said the SDFRD has a dozen brush engines, two water-dropping helicopters and access to the San Diego Gas & Electric heli-tanker.
City crews have also been inspecting properties along canyon rims for overgrown brush, he said.