BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Wildfires can be unpredictable. That’s why Kern County firefighters use their knowledge of the terrain to prepare for the fire. Those preparations are underway for the upcoming wildfire season.
Officials say about three dozen firefighters are using a wildfire's asset against itself - the flames - to make sure there’s no brush left for it to cling onto and grow rapidly in size. The idea is for crews to get to the dry brush and grass before the wildfires can in the hot dry months ahead.
If you saw a fire on Highway 223 at Highway 58 on Wednesday there is no need to be alarmed. The fire, which could close down Highway 223 in both directions was intentional. The Kern County Fire Department says it was “prescribed.”
“It’s been established that the most effective way to provide for public safety, is to burn that dry fuel, that dry grass that’s between Highway 223 and the fuel brake," explained Andrew Freeborn, Kern County Dire Department public information officer. "That means once that fire has burned through there, there’s almost no grass left over. And if there’s no dry grass left over, that means there’s nothing left to burn if a fire were to occur on the roadway.”
Freeborn says they only have one or two of these high visibility burns ahead of each wildfire season. But dozens of other burns like these have happened behind the scenes. The work may go unnoticed but can help protect the communities wildfires affect most.
“All throughout the winter months we have crews in our mountain communities that are burning piles of all of that vegetation that they’ve cleaned and piled up," continued Freeborn. "We’re continuing with our heavy equipment, all throughout the county, to put fuel brakes along highways and around mountain communities.”
County investments led to much-needed equipment upgrades for KCFD. That included four additional fire engines, 10 thermal imaging cameras for 10 new fire engines, and a rescue hoist kit for heavy rescues. Freeborn says they now have 19 new engines ready and assigned to various corners of the county.
This as the California Office of Emergency Services also prepares for the upcoming wildfire season. But Cal OES Fire and Rescue Chief Brian Marshall says the season is really year-round.
“Very little rain and snowfall is creating extreme drought this winter, across the Western United States. The fuels are literally ready to burn. All it needs is that one spark.”
And while firefighters are gearing up for the frontlines, Chief Marshall says that citizens can prepare on their own. Besides knowing their evacuation routes, having a go-bag ready with essentials and evacuating early he points to creating defensible space ahead of time.
“Every property is different, every situation is different. The fuel type and where the home sits is different. Is it in the flat land? Is it in the mountains? We encourage everybody to engage with their local fire departments to make sure their house will survive a wildfire.”
The prescribed burn is happening until midnight so Kern County Fire does warn residents that there may be closures during that time. They also ask them to be careful and give themselves enough time to make their journey with possible closures and slow down speeds so these firefighters can be safe while they do their work.