Cal Fire prepares for wildfire season

Greg Lee, KESQ News Channel 3 Reporter & Sports Anchor, glee@kesq.com
POSTED: 04:11 PM PDT Apr 17, 2013    UPDATED: 10:43 AM PDT Apr 18, 2013 
MORONGO INDIAN RESERVATION, Calif. -

Low snow and rain totals throughout Southern California this winter has firefighters on high alert.  The dry conditions paired with typical Santa Ana winds could produce a particularly bad wildfire season in the Southland, and it's certainly put firefighters on high alert.

As part of continued training and preparation for the upcoming 2013 wildfire season, Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire hosted their annual "Fire Preparedness Exercise," at the Morongo Indian Reservation near Beaumont.  Inmate fire crews from Riverside county participate in the yearly exercise to evaluate their skills to safely suppress wildland fires. "Really rigorous testing where they actually go through and operational procedures they're going to be doing out on the fire line," said Chief Mark Barr from Beaumont Cal Fire.  "We want to make sure that they're safe and ready to go and serve the public."

Seventeen inmate fire crews from Oak Glen, Bautista and Norco Conservation camps were evaluated on a fire line tool out, one hour hike, two hours of line construction and fire shelter deployment.  "They work right alongside our career firefighters, they're supervised by a career captain and they basically are the backbone of the infantry part of our fire department," said Chief Barr.

While these inmates lead the way for efforts in fighting wildfires on the ground, this program gives them a chance to take the first step towards a fresh start.  "You know it helps right the wrong, the things we did, the bad choices we made," said Ronald Gutierrez, a member of one of the inmate fire crews.  "It helps us to make sure that we feel good about what we're giving back to the community."

The training comes at a crucial time.  The dry winter has left grass and brush very susceptible to burning, which could lead to an extremely busy fire season. "The potential is there this year to be busy, we're certainly going to be at it a little earlier than usual we think," said Chief Barr.

For wildfire tips for homeowners, go here: http://www.fire.ca.gov/communications/communications_newsreleases_IncreasedStaffing_SoCal_2013.php