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North Bay crews wary as dry, windy conditions set stage for grass fires

Bay Area fire crews on alert due to fire conditions in the region
Bay Area fire crews on alert due to fire conditions in the region 02:16

SANTA ROSA -- Although it has been years since devastating wildfires ripped through the North Bay and Wine Country, reducing communities to rubble, the threat and feelings that come with fire season are always top of mind as summer rolls around.

"During the last fire season we had evacuees at our house, we have family that lost a house. We're very familiar with fire season," said Stacy Wallace.

As of this week, the Santa Rosa Fire Department declared fire season officially here.

"This is the time of the year where, typically, we're looking at June gloom. That is definitely not the case right now. Temperatures have definitely come up, winds are also up and humidities are down. For us, that's definitely a concern, given how dry our seasonal grasses are," said Paul Lowenthal, Division Chief Fire Marshal. "One of the things with this weekend is the temperatures are definitely not going to be as hot as they have been but it's really dry and going to be very windy. That can be a little misleading for people. We fully expect a lot of people will be outdoors."

There is a lot of fuel for grass fires right now thanks to a wet first half of the year. 

"We've had little grass fires here and there. It's definitely interesting to see how well the fuels are essentially burning at this point in the season. That's what we expected -- with how much rainfall we had and how thick the grasses grew -- and how quickly they dried out," Lowenthal said. "Fortunately, that rain is definitely benefitting our heavier fuels -- our brush and timber -- that still have that fuel moisture in them. So, it doesn't make them as receptive to burning as the grass is right now. But, the grasses are definitely the concern this weekend."

As the summer progresses, Lowenthal says areas that burned in previous years do have the potential to burn again.

"A lot of the areas that have burned have the potential to burn again. I understand that some of the most recent fires to our north in Lake and Mendocino County burned in some of the old burn scars and that's really our concern here as well. In Sonoma County, we have a lot of areas that have obviously experienced significant fire history in the last seven years. But those areas have definitely regrown and have a lot of changes in fuels and, in some cases, those fuel conditions are worse today than they were in 2017," he explained.

Lowenthal is urging people to take fire prevention steps such as clearing brush and creating defensible space around their properties.

Wallace said her family has go-bags and a plan, as they've lived through many fire seasons in Santa Rosa.

"We have to pay attention," she said. "It's going to be a crazy season, I think."

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