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With peak fire season still ahead, here is how to stay prepared and informed

A Cal Fire strike team during the Colorado Fire earlier this year.
Cal Fire
A Cal Fire strike team during the Colorado Fire earlier this year.
Wildfire Resources

Summer is here, and that means California is facing another unpredictable wildfire season. Major fires are already burning along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, including the Washburn fire that is blanketing Yosemite National Park with smoke.

Meanwhile, California is suffering a drought emergency. Parched landscapes across the state are making wildfire conditions even more volatile.

The risk of wildfire is significant, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief of Communications Issac Sanchez.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Issac Sanchez (IS): What we are seeing are things that we used to refer to as unprecedented. And that's a term that I hesitate to use anymore because of recent history. We're seeing things that, yes, they're outdoing themselves year after year, but it's exactly what we're prepared for. And I personally am expecting to see every single year.

Jerimiah Oetting (JO): I'm not sure if you have this granular level of knowledge about this region, but in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, do you know of any particularly concerning areas?

Cal Fire Battalion Chief of Communications Issac Sanchez spoke with KAZU News over Zoom.
Jerimiah Oetting
Cal Fire Battalion Chief of Communications Issac Sanchez spoke with KAZU News over Zoom.

IS: You know, I don't have that. I hesitate to answer that question with given, specific communities, simply because what we don't want is the person receiving that information to say, well, I don't live in that community, so I'm not at risk. And that certainly is not the case. It doesn't take a large fire acreage-wise to impact you or impact your community. All it takes is a small fire to burn down one home and that person is being impacted.

JO: So the state is in a drought right now, but the Central Coast seems a little bit different because it did receive that late season moisture

IS: But you also had the Colorado fire in January. And where that fire burned, nobody expects a fire to burn like that in January.

What we're seeing is fuel beds that are receptive to fire and continued burning during portions of the year that we historically haven't seen that. And yes, it is a benefit to be along the coast. Yes, absolutely, the fuel moistures typically are higher into later portions of the year.

But it's a bit of a confusing message as far as when things are going to be ready to burn. I believe they're ready to burn now, and I believe they're going to continue to be ready to burn even in the cooler months of the year, until this drought is completed and we start receiving consistent, measurable rain.

JO: Given the conditions this year, when is peak fire season expected — is it now? And how long do you expect a typical fire season to last along the Central Coast?

IS: The highest potential for large destructive fires begins historically this month. And then, of course, it just gets worse as we move into the late summer and early fall.

JO: What's the best way for residents to stay informed about current conditions?

IS: Well, you know, obviously, pay attention to what's going on with the news media. They'll advise you when things like red flag warnings and extreme fire conditions exist. You can certainly search Cal Fire under all of the major social media platforms. We do maintain a presence there. You can also look for the Cal Fire administrative units in your area, in your given county. We don't cover the entire state, but we cover a vast majority of the state.

In order to fully prepare yourself you absolutely should register for the reverse 911 notifications (Santa Cruz / Monterey), because typically that is how your local sheriff's department is going to notify you of evacuation orders and warnings.

JO: I know that domestic livestock and pets were a big issue during the CZU fires. Is there a way that you'd recommend people prepare that have pets?

IS: Absolutely. First step visit, we do have a section on that page for preparing for evacuations with your pets. But typically what we like to see is: have a carrier for your pet — if they'll fit in a carrier, of course, if they’re house pets. Food is absolutely necessary, it's one thing that people typically will overlook in the rush to evacuate. So have that stuff available prior to and you don't have to worry about missing it when it's time to go.

But most of all, keep track of your pet. Put their leash on them, maintain control of them, because in the hustle and bustle of the effort to evacuate, they could simply get away. And now we're facing another issue entirely.

JO: How would you describe the potential for fire danger this year and the state's preparation for that danger?

IS: They both have the same answer and it's significant. We are prepared for and we certainly expect significant fire behavior this year because that's simply the only way you can fully be prepared. You have to expect the worst, be prepared for the worst. And I always like to close with the preparedness message. For additional tips on what folks can do to prepare themselves, their families and their homes and in this case, their pets for wildfire and other disasters, they can visit

Jerimiah Oetting is KAZU’s news director. Prior to his career in public media, he was a field biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.