Calif. Residents Asked to Help Prevent Wildfires

June 2, 2013
Leaders from Cal Fire advised rural residents of Santa Cruz County to create 100 feet of defensible space around their homes.

June 01--BEN LOMOND -- Wiping sweat from his brow during training at Cal Fire's Ben Lomond Conservation Camp on Friday, firefighter Carlos Orta said he remembered fighting the Trabing Fire in 2008.

Twenty-six homes were destroyed in Larkin Valley that June and Orta said he and others were scrambling in some places to clear brush that could have been removed by homeowners.

"If people are up on that, it makes it easier for us to protect their houses," said Orta, a 33-year-old Watsonville resident.

Orta and leaders from Cal Fire advised rural residents of Santa Cruz County to create 100 feet of defensible space around their homes and 30 feet of "lean vegetation" near it.

Cal Fire leaders said this week that drier conditions exist in Santa Cruz County this week than there were in the summers of 2008 and 2009, when the Trabing Fire and four other wildfires scorched more than 12,000 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"It's actually much drier," said Cal Fire Capt. Jed Wilson.

At the Ben Lomond Camp on Empire Grade Road, 39 season Cal Fire firefighters trained this week and took written exams. Some of the skills included handling hoses, breathing devices, ladders and other equipment for wildfires and structure fires.

Orta said he was getting in better shape lately and brushing up on his skills. They also practiced switching gear they use in structure fires and wildfires. Those changes were common in the six years he has been a seasonal firefighter.

"Your assignment could change at a moment's notice," Orta said.

Nineteen more firefighters trained at the camp earlier in May, and some already have been sent on strike teams to wildfires in Southern California. About seven more firefighters will train at the facility in the coming weeks, Wilson said.

Cal Fire on Friday also issued a Red Flag Warning, which advised residents in the state to be careful with sparks from power equipment such as chainsaws and tractors. It also asked campers to make sure campfires are allowed and completely extinguish them with water when finished.

Cal Fire responded to nearly 1,900 wildfires in the state since January, which have burned about 45,000 acres. During an average year, Cal Fire typically has responded to 990 fires that burn about 7,700 acres.

Wilson asked homeowners to follow the state guidelines at

"Everyone's prepping for a potentially busy fire season," said Wilson.

Follow Sentinel reporter Stephen Baxter at

At a glance

Tips for homeowners preparing for wildfire season

Create a 30-foot 'lean, clean and green' area around from the house and 100 feet of defensible space around it.

Clear vegetation around address markers and use contrasting colors for visibility.

Clear vegetation from water standpipes and other water sources on roads.

Map a wildfire exit route and keep a checklist of items to pack.

Call your local fire station for a home inspection.

Log on to for more information.


Summit Fire: 4,270 acres burned in May 2008, 63 homes were destroyed. Cost to fight fire: $14.9 million. Cause: Burn pile not properly attended.

Martin Fire (Bonny Doon): 520 acres burned, June 2008, three homes destroyed. Cost: $5.4 million. Cause: Unknown hiker.

Trabing Fire (Larkin Valley area): 630 acres, June 2008, 26 homes destroyed. Cause: Sparks from vehicle exhaust.

Lockheed Fire (North Coast): 7,187 acres, August 2009, no homes but 13 structures destroyed. Cost: $26.6 million. Cause: Unattended fire.

Loma Fire (Mount Madonna Road area): 485 acres, October 2009, one mobile home and seven recreational vehicles along with seven outbuildings destroyed. Cost: $4 million. Cause: Sparks from a state fire agency's brush clearing project.

Copyright 2013 - Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.

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