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San Joaquin County firefighters seeing a routine season — so far

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Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 12:00 am

Fire departments throughout California have been expecting an active wildfire season this year following an extremely dry winter. Statewide it's proven true, and local departments have sent strike teams to help fight flames in Northern and Southern California much earlier than usual.

But in San Joaquin County, the fire season has been routine so far.

Fire departments including Lodi, Stockton, Woodbridge and others said that while it is only May, there hasn't been an increase in brush fires.

Typically, fire season reaches its peak in August and September, although roadside brush, which is the most common cause of wildfires, has dried out earlier than usual, according to Woodbridge Fire Chief Steve Butler.

CAL FIRE has responded to more than 680 wildfires since the beginning of this year, which is a 45 percent increase from the average through April. Little rainfall during the last few months has caused the spike, and could signal higher fire danger this summer.

While things have been normal in the Lodi area, local fire departments have been assisting other counties in fighting fires earlier than usual.

Already, Lodi, Manteca, Tracy and Stockton have sent firefighters to battle wildfires in Ventura County.

Meanwhile, Clements, Thornton and Liberty have sent strike teams to the Panther Fire in Butte County.

"That seemed early in the season for strike teams to go out," Thornton Fire Chief Vince Tafuri said.

Locally, residents have taken appropriate steps to limit potential fires.

A statewide ordinance requires building owners to remove fire hazards within 100 feet of the property line of their structure.

The Mokelumne Fire District recently completed their inspections and sent letters to building owners with surrounding hazards. The district's spent several days answering phone calls from residents upset with the ordinance and the tasking responsibility.

But Mokelumne Fire District Captain Rob Firman said folks who don't abide by the request sometimes regret it eventually.

"We try to talk to people and explain why we're doing this," he said. "The people who've had fires learn the hard way, and once you've had a fire it could be too late."

Residents of Woodbridge largely understand the high fire danger and have made sure their properties are free of hazards. Last year the Woodbridge Fire Department sent 170 letters to building owners with surrounding hazards, but this year they've only sent 30 notices.

"People have been taking care of their properties," Butler said. "It's been pretty impressive."

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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