California firefighters no longer gear up for the "fire season." They gear up to fight fires year-round and they want the public to get into that mindset as well.
The insurance industry numbers show California has become the leading state for wildfires with 9,560 in 2017 that consumed 1.3 million acres. Georgia had the second-highest number of fires but lagged far behind with just 3,929, and Idaho had the second-highest number of acres burned but again, lagged far behind with 686,262 acres burned.
In California, the costs in 2017 were severe: 44 people dead and more than $10 billion in damage.
Mike Mohler, deputy director of communications for Cal Fire, says there's particular concern for people living in urban areas who think they're not at risk. He cites last year's Santa Rosa fire as an example. "Walmart burned in the middle of the city. It jumped a six-lane freeway. It burned down Starbucks. Those are the kind of conditions that we're seeing," he told CBN News.
How did California get to this point? For starters, Cal Fire says its vegetation plus cool, moist winters and hot, dry summers make for a "world-class" fire environment.
Add to that longer, hotter summers in recent years plus an extended drought. That drought combined with bark beetle infestation has killed 129 million trees across the state. Those trees represent an instant fire hazard. Fire officials say many communities can go up in flames in minutes.
In fact, a new Cal Fire investigation reveals that falling trees and tree limbs hitting power lines were the most common cause of last October's wildfires in the state's wine country that burned thousands of homes and killed 15 people.
Cal Fire wants the public, even those living in urban areas, to be aware and ready to evacuate when conditions warrant.
"When the firefighters are spending the first 12 hours going in and just evacuating people and not fighting fire - that should be a clue to the public that, hey, the firefighter professionals can't even start fighting fires because they need to get people out of harm's way -that's how bad it is right now," said Mohler.
Homeowners can take simple steps, like clearing brush away from their homes, to help safeguard not only their properties but their communities.