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Firefighters Already Having Busy Summer In Drought-Stricken Northern California

(KPIX 5) -- Two major wildfires in Northern California are among those already taxing fire crews in a drought-plagued state not even one month into summer.

Since the Monticello fire erupted on July 4th in Yolo County, more than 6,400 acres have burned and Cal Fire said containment is now up to 35 percent. All evacuation orders have  been lifted.

In Napa County, a wildfire northwest of Lake Berryessa is almost fully contained after scorching 4,300 acres and destroying two buildings.

In Contra Costa County, firefighters have been busy responding to a surge in fire calls.

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"We are seeing a huge workload increase in Contra Costa," said Contra Costa Fire Protection District Capt. Robert Marshall. "We've already seen a number of bigger fires.

Instead of three to five wildland fires a week, East Bay firefighters are answering that many in a single day.  With fire station cuts, there are times when nearly all their firefighters are tied up and unable to answer other emergency calls.

"We are in unchartered territory," said Marshall. "This is not a fire season we've ever seen before."

In drought-stricken areas of the state, firefighters are aware that changes in the weather could stoke up current wildfires again or enable even more fires statewide.

We are expecting thunderstorms in the higher elevations and in the Sierra," said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. "We could see some dry lightning sparks much like we saw in 2008."

In 2008, some 2,000 fires strained the state's resources and prompted authorities to call in 20,000 firefighters from across the country.

This year pales in comparison so far, but this is a marathon drought and Cal Fire has already answered 900 more calls than usual this year - 275 fires just last week.

"We've continued to respond to a large number of fires from one to another to the next," said Berlant. "But fortunately, without a lot of wind and without strong weather patterns we've been able to stop these fires relatively quickly."

Currently, 3,000 firefighters are battling five major fires in Northern California. In addition to 5,000 regular Cal Fire firefighters, the agency has 2,700 seasonal hires - 300 more than last year.


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