Jeff Jardine

This just in: Wildfire Awareness Week was last week

The Rim fire of 2013 burned 257,314 acres, or more than 400 square miles, and was the third-largest in state history.
The Rim fire of 2013 burned 257,314 acres, or more than 400 square miles, and was the third-largest in state history. Modesto Bee file

In case you weren’t aware of it, and you weren’t, last week was Wildfire Awareness Week. It really wasn’t intended to be one of those covert awareness weeks.

It just happened that way because Senate Concurrent Resolution 49 – proposed April 29 by Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, proclaiming May 3-9 as Wildfire Awareness Week – didn’t come up for a vote in the Senate until May 11, two days after Wildfire Awareness Week flamed out.

Never fear, it passed unanimously. Last I heard, arsonists didn’t hire a lobbyist to block it. But as awareness weeks go, this one would have had some competition had anyone known about it.

It shared last week with the Department of Education’s Be Kind to Animals Week, National Teacher Appreciation Week, School Nutrition Employee Week, and Teacher Appreciation Week. And it also was Screen-Free Week, aka National TV-Turnoff Week, which I missed while watching Warriors’ and Giants’ games, after “Jeopardy!” of course.

All said, the purpose of Berryhill’s resolution was/is to implore the good residents and bad pot growers and everyone in between to be more responsible, to show utmost caution when it comes to campfires and other types of fires, and protect their homes when fires threaten. Critics might suggest the senators’ and legislators’ time might have been better spent – indeed, the pols spent money on themselves this week when they gave themselves pay raises – by tackling water, transportation and other issues. But there really is a value to a Wildlife Awareness Week. Berryhill’s resolution mirrors the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s campaign to educate people about wildfire preparedness in concert with a campaign by fire agencies ( California experienced 7,865 wildfires that burned 555,044 acres in 2014.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, California experienced 25,722 wildfires and 2 million charred acres from Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2014. Berryhill’s resolution states that “95 percent of wildfires in California are human-caused and, therefore, are preventable,” meaning 24,436 of those fires were started by people who apparently need to be reminded not to burn up what’s left of the forests through human error/stupidity. The fires, Berryhill points out, affect water and air quality. And it doesn’t take an expert to predict fire conditions will be worse throughout 2015, the fourth year of drought.

The pols, along with well-placed road signs, are reminding folks to maintain a defensible space around homes and other important buildings. They also are warning outdoors types to drench all campfires, or better yet not to defy logic and the law by having a campfire where and when campfires are prohibited, because the hills will soon be as flammable as a gas-soaked hay barn.

“This year’s drought conditions make it an incredibly dangerous year for those of us who live in California’s forested areas. These mega fires threaten more than just our region. Watershed, air quality and a host of other things are negatively impacted when there is a raging wildfire,” Berryhill said in the release. “This is something all Californians should be concerned about. We have already had over 1,000 small fires erupt and it is only May.”

Berryhill’s 8th Senate District is geographically massive. It covers seven entire counties including Stanislaus and Tuolumne, and parts of four others. It encompasses areas of the Valley, foothills and Sierra all the way to the Nevada border, and includes all of Yosemite National Park. The majority of the district is ripe for wildfire, except perhaps for the 257,314-acre Rim fire area that burned in 2013. Drought conditions turn the state into a tinderbox. Firefighters need water to put them out, and the easiest dipping points for helicopters to get water are the reservoirs that provide drinking water to the mountain communities or irrigation water to the Valley.

The good news: Just because Wildfire Awareness Week is technically over with doesn’t mean you can’t still be aware of it, heed it and be ready.

Maybe Berryhill and the rest of the Senate simply could amend the resolution by changing the dates to May 18-22. That precedes Memorial Day weekend, the first big camping holiday of the season.

If only they could pass it by then.