California governor prepares for worst wildfire season

May 19 2014, 01:02 IST
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SummaryDrought-stricken California is preparing for its worst wildfire season ever, the state's governor said Sunday.

Drought-stricken California is preparing for its worst wildfire season ever, the state's governor said Sunday.

Gov. Jerry Brown told ABC television's ''This Week'' that the nearly dozen wildfires that caused more than $20 million in damage mark only the beginning. The state has 5,000 firefighters and has appropriated $600 million to battling blazes, but that may not be enough in the future.

''We're getting ready for the worst,'' Brown said. ''Now, we don't want to anticipate before we know, but we need a full complement of firefighting capacity.''

He added that thousands of additional firefighters may be needed in the future, saying California is on the ''front lines'' of climate change that is making its weather hotter.

''And in the years to come, we're going to have to make very expensive investments and adjust. And the people are going to have to be careful of how they live, how they build their homes and what kind of vegetation is allowed to grow around them.

Unusually high temperatures, low humidity and gusty winds set conditions last week for the string of wildfires that broke out in San Diego County.

''Normally, I don't even put wildfire gear in my vehicle until the end of April. This year I never took it out,'' Kirk Kushen, battalion chief of the Kern County Fire Department, said at a base camp in Escondido. ''We never really completed the 2013 fire season. It's been a continuation.''

At least 10 fires spanning 39 square miles (101 million square kilometers) chewed a destructive path through San Diego County, destroying 11 houses, an 18-unit apartment complex and two businesses. A badly burned body was found in a transient camp, and one firefighter suffered heat exhaustion.

The last of tens of thousands of evacuees returned home Saturday after firefighters scoured charred hillsides north of San Diego to guard against a resurgence of flames that ripped through the region.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has responded to more than 1,500 fires this year, compared with about 800 during an average year.

The first blaze in San Diego started Tuesday and was caused by a spark from construction equipment, according to state officials, but it could take months to get to the bottom of the most damaging fires. Alberto Serrato, 57, pleaded not guilty Friday to an arson charge in connection with one of the smaller fires, but authorities say

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