San Diego, California - Hot dry winds are back in the forecast, raising the wildfire risk once again in San Diego County. The County’s fire responders sprang into action during the Santa Ana that recently scorched the region and are bracing for a potentially explosive wildfire season, due to the extreme drought.

San Diego County residents are being asked to do their part to help fire officials and their communities by creating and maintaining at least 100 feet of defensible space around their properties.

State and federal officials joined local CAL FIRE and aSan Diego Sheriff’s Department representative for Wildfire Awareness Week Tuesday to urge homeowners to minimize fire hazards around their homes and to be careful when using  mechanized equipment that could spark a fire.

“San Diego County is experiencing one of the driest years on record,” said Greg Griswold, acting unit chief of CAL FIRE. “Fire activity up and down the state is at record levels and San Diego is no exception.”

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, along with other top fire and emergency services representatives, took an aerial tour of San Diego County to assess the fire risk to communities. She noted that while some homeowners did a great job with defensible space, it was apparent others had not yet made any efforts to clear brush that came right up to some of the homes.

CAL FIRE fought 1,244 wildfires statewide from January through April this year, triple the normal amount of fires it usually handles in that time period, she said.

“People of California should know this and take steps to protect their home,” Jewell said.

Locally, San Diego County works closely with CAL FIRE to help keep communities safe from wildfires.

In April, the San Diego County Fire Authority mailed out defensible space fliers to 11,000 residents who live in communities adjacent to rural open space areas of San Diego County, said fire inspector Jorge Self.

After several weeks, CAL FIRE then began sending out inspection teams to try to help homeowners comply with the defensible space ordinance. Self receives the inspection reports and often does follow-up work with homeowners who have significant work to do.

In addition to fire prevention education, the Fire Authority contracts with CAL FIRE to provide extra firefighters for emergency response to the backcountry area of San Diego County. The Fire Authority’s primary responsibility is to improve emergency medical aid and structure fire response for 1.5 million acres in the backcountry communities.

In a spate of brush fires that erupted last week during a Santa Ana wind event, Fire Authority volunteer firefighters and County-funded career firefighters responded to assist with the fires using County fire equipment and water tenders, said Kevin O’Leary, fire services coordinator for the Fire Authority.

Sheriff’s Capt. Dave Moss, in charge of the Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies (ASTREA), said two of the Sheriff’s helicopters augment firefighting efforts because they do firefighting and rescue missions. Five other helicopters in the Sheriff’s aerial fleet can also support fire-related missions drop  if needed. As part of their partnership, the ASTREA unit does extensive training with CAL FIRE crews, he said.

Additionally, Sheriff’s deputies coordinate closely with all firefighters in their jurisdiction because deputies are in charge of carrying out evacuation orders in the event of a wildfire.

The Sheriff’s Department holds annual wildfire training for all levels of sheriff’s personnel in nearly every department and distributes protective equipment to deputies as a result of the 2003 and 2007 wildfires, Moss said. Now, all deputies in the field carry a fire turnout suit, gloves and boots in case they have to make notifications and help with evacuations during a wildfire. During extreme fire conditions, deputies even wear a more rugged version of their uniform, he said.

Ultimately, first responders want to encourage all residents to be ready as well. To learn more about defensive space, visit www.ReadySanDiego.org.