Weary crews prepare for long US wildfire season

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Associated Press

Posted on May 17, 2014 at 8:35 PM

ESCONDIDO, California (AP) — Firefighters scoured charred hillsides north of San Diego on Saturday to guard against a resurgence of flames that ripped through the region, while the last of tens of thousands of evacuees prepared to return home.

The relief was mixed with a sense of dread that high temperatures and low humidity point to a long fire season ahead.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has responded to more than 1,500 fires this year, compared with about 800 during an average year.

"Normally, I don't even put wildfire gear in my vehicle until the end of April. This year I never took it out," said Kirk Kushen, battalion chief of the Kern County Fire Department. "We never really completed the 2013 fire season. It's been a continuation."

At least 10 fires have chewed a destructive path through San Diego County since Tuesday, destroying 11 houses, an 18-unit apartment complex and two businesses. A badly burned body was found in a transient camp.

The first blaze was caused by a spark from construction equipment, according to state officials, but it could take months to determine the cause of the most damaging fires.

Ocean breezes and lower temperatures Saturday aided firefighters, who focused on a blaze on the Camp Pendleton Marine base.

Many evacuations have been lifted, including some on Saturday, but it was unclear when all would be allowed to return to their homes, said Kendal Bortisser, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The conditions have put firefighters on alert throughout California. The state firefighting agency went to peak staffing in the first week of April, instead of its usual start in mid-May.

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Associated Press videographer Haven Daley contributed to this report.

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