San Luis Obispo County

CAL FIRE Hires Seasonal Firefighters Earlier Than Usual

State agency adds 400 firefighters in advance of 2016 fire season

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - As winter fades away, peak fire season is just about arrived in California. But CAL FIRE is getting an early jump on it by hiring 400 seasonal firefighters.

"Normally we bring firefighters on when it's time to start fighting fires," said spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff. "This year, we're bringing them onto help with the prevention of wildfires.  We're going to have them in there doing defensible space inspections, we'll have them helping with brush clearing, working on projects for fuel breaks, that sort of thing."

CAL FIRE has been able to add the extra staffing early in the calendar year due to additional funding from the state. Among the firefighters the state agency has brought on board are several in San Luis Obispo County.

"We've hired 30 of them on March 14th and they're going to be augmented with an additional 38 that we're going to be hiring on April 4th," said assistant chief Eric Cleveland.

Typically, the seasonal hires are not brought in until May, but with fire danger high, they're arriving more than a month early. For those hired in San Luis Obispo County, Cleveland said they're already hard at work.

"They're right now doing vegetation management projects, so they're burning piles in Oceano, and Nacimiento Lake area and in the Park Hill area."

Cleveland noted that while the recent rain during the winter months may have colored the hills of the Central Coast a vibrant green, the now yellowing grass will soon die creating a potentially dangerous fire season ahead.

"We've got a much larger grass crop and with the rains coming earlier than we've had in the past few years, those grasses have already started to cure and you're seeing them go to seed and dry out much quicker than normal."

CAL FIRE stresses to home and land owners to start mowing weeds immediately to create a defensible space at least 100 feet around their home.

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