California Fire Danger Extraordinarily High For Labor Day

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- State fire officials raised the red flag Thursday, saying the chance of wildfires for Labor Day weekend is extremely high and warning campers to take extra precautions.

With low humidity and high winds forecast, nearly the entire state is under a fire warning, said Karen Terrill, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The only exception is the southern San Joaquin Valley.

``We have extraordinary fire potential this weekend,'' she said.

In forests and foothills, conditions for fire are at an all-time high, with extremely dry tinder. Fires in July burned much hotter than usual, reducing to white ash big trees that normally would have survived with a charring, said Matt Mathes of the U.S. Forest Service.

The federal Bureau of Land Management suspended all open fires this week on lands it manages in the Sierra Nevada foothills between Yuba and Mariposa counties, and fire restrictions have been increased in national forests.

Terrill said that anyone with a CDF campfire permit should make sure fires are allowed on the city, county, state or federal lands where they plan to stay.

Fire restrictions in national forests increase farther south, with no fires allowed in the Angeles National Forest in Southern California, Mathes said. To the north, the Tahoe National Forest is only allowing fires in campgrounds that have a water system and fire rings, a precaution that is unusual this time of year.

Even where only gas stoves are allowed, the Forest Service is encouraging campers to pack foods that don't need to be cooked.

``The risk of starting a fire is so high I would go beyond the restrictions,'' Mathes said. ``We realize that campfires are part of the outdoor experience, but we realize we're in a critical situation throughout California. If we do have fires under the current conditions, fires are going to burn unusually hot and it's going to take many years for these areas to recover back to the way they look now.''

As of Thursday, state parks had not restricted fires in campgrounds, said spokesman Joe Rosato.

Although more of the state's 7,000 annual wildfires are sparked in July, the most devastating ones burn in September and October as the state continues to dry out under sunny skies and lack of rain, Terrill said. All but 5 percent of wildfires are caused by people and most are accidental.

Through Sunday, 5,567 fires had burned 153,121 acres this year, according to CDF. That's 2 1/2-fold increase over the 61,255 acres burned in the same period last year.

With the so-called red flag warning, CDF has increased its state of readiness. Regional fire managers have several options to respond to the alert, including calling up more firefighters, increasing the number of dispatchers, sending more equipment to threatened areas and increasing volunteer fire spotters and air patrols, Terrill said.