Redding chief points out “ominous situation” in valley
SEAN J. LONGORIA, Record Searchlight
The wettest year on record filled Lake Shasta near its brim and left plenty of snow in the mountains but it’s also causing Redding Fire Chief Gerry Gray to worry what might be waiting for him when the city starts to dry out.
“Across the valley, we’re seeing a great deal of grasses and brush that have flourished under the rains,” Gray said. “The valley floor is going to have a very busy fire season.”
Higher elevations will likely see a delayed start to the season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, which also predicts the heavy load of grass and brush could be “problematic” for lower areas starting in July.
Snowpack in the northern Sierra and statewide is nearly double normal amounts, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
But that won’t help Redding much when higher temperatures start to dry out the area.
“Down here in the valley we’re looking at a very ominous situation,” Gray said. “This is a good time to remind our residents to get out there and clear that vegetation from around your house.”
The threat also comes as Redding is all but certain to lose nine apprentice positions in July. Those jobs were grant-funded. That money has run out and the city hasn’t identified an alternative source after Measure D – the half-cent sales tax hike – failed in November.
Crews aren’t sitting idly by, though. Redding firefighters, along with crews from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and volunteers from the Rotary Club of Redding, tried Monday to burn off overgrown Himalayan blackberry bushes on 17 acres off Benton Drive north of the Sacramento River.
The property, just south of Riverside Drive, was prepped for the burn by work from the Rotary Club of Redding.
“The idea is to get the blackberry burned up and invite people to come and use this property – a stroll, a walk, bring their dogs – open this property up so it can be used rather than abused,” said Randall Smith, a Redding conservationist and Rotarian.
Firefighters said the work could prevent uncontrolled fires later in the year under north winds that would push flames into downtown.
Such was the worry with 2015’s River Fire, the arson-sparked blaze that started on the south side of the Sacramento River and east of the Diestelhorst Bridge. The fire burned on both banks of the Sacramento River and caused the closure of Riverside Drive and part of Quartz Hill Road. Windblown embers also caused a spot fire on part of the Union Pacific railroad trestle over the Sacramento River that firefighters fought with a ladder truck.
Mother Nature, however, wasn’t cooperating with Monday’s efforts. Rain and humidity pushing near 90 percent forced firefighters to call off their plans after their test burns didn’t spread very far.
“Hopefully we get two or three days of dry weather and can try it again,” Gray said.
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