Watch CBS News

South Bay firefighters warn "the smallest spark" could cause fires in current dry condition

California's wet winters now contributing to dangerous fire conditions in South Bay
California's wet winters now contributing to dangerous fire conditions in South Bay 02:12

SANTA CLARA COUNTY — California's recent wet winters brought much relief to the state, but it has now contributed to dangerous fire conditions.

The past couple of years brought rare, back-to-back wet winters, creating "a very heavy grass crop," according to Santa Clara County Fire Battalion Chief Bill Murphy. And with a one-day heat wave hitting parts of the Bay Area Tuesday, Murphy warned the conditions present higher-than-normal fire dangers.

"This grass only takes about an hour during the hot period of the day to where it's ready to burn. Even if it's foggy overnight, if we have a 90-degree temperature the next day at low humidity, the grass will be ready to burn again," Murphy said. "What we see in years like this is we actually tend to get more fires in years with heavy grass crops because the grass is so receptive to burning on a hot day."

The San Jose Fire Department also said fire danger is currently "significant." The department activated and announced its 'wild land season.'

"What (wild land season) means is that we're going to up staffing, so we're going have greater numbers of firefighters available," Anthony Ibarra, a wild land officer at the San Jose Fire Department, said. "We're also going to be having specialized apparatus ready to be deployed. We're going to have vehicles that have four-wheel-drive capabilities that can get into the more-difficult areas to access in San Jose due to either terrain or roads. We're also going to be activating our water tenders. Those are 2,000 gallon fire apparatus that have the ability to deliver 2,000 gallons of water into remote areas of San Jose."

The San Jose Fire Department is also working with the city's parks and neighborhoods department to reduce fuels, like tall, dry grass, in high-risk areas, according to Ibarra. 

The fire department is also working with Cal Fire to conduct several controlled burns in San Jose city limits to reduce fire risk.

"What we're trying to encourage residents of the city of San Jose to do to reduce the fire risk at their homes is to clean out their gutters. Also, the limb up any trees. Clear out any vegetation and have an escape plan in the event that a fire was to come into the area," Ibarra said.

Murphy also pointed out that "the vast majority of fires are human-caused," adding that simple behavioral changes and decisions could make a difference in a potential fire from breaking out.

Examples provided by Murphy included grilling in areas where there isn't dry grass nearby. Wind gusts can carry over embers from a grill to nearby vegetation. He also said it was important for anyone mowing their grass to do so before 10 a.m.

"That grass takes on moisture throughout the day. So, as we get through the hot part of the day, there's no moisture left in the grass," Murphy said. "So, if the mower hits a rock, that's all the grass needs to start a fire."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.