By Leigh Martinez

STOCKTON (CBS13) — The Central Valley prepares for an early fire season, thanks to El Nino rains helping grass grow tall along highways and vacant properties.

“Last year we put out more than 500 grass fires along the highways and with only 12 fire companies,” said Doug Webster of Stockton’s Fire Prevention Department.

Tuesday afternoon, San Macedo spent his free time cutting down grass across the street from his home.

“I got four kids, so the last thing I want them saying is ‘Dad, there’s a fire out here,” said Macedo.

Stockton Fire said the current green glass will dry out in the next few weeks, making it perfect fuel for fire. If homeowners don’t cut the grass, Stockton Fire Prevention writes citations.

“I think I sent out over 700 letters last year,” said Webster, who names state and private industry as regular visits.
“I have the two railroads, I have CalTrans and I’m constantly on the phone or sending letters to them.”

Caltrans said its crews were already at work on the growing grass.

“Right now, we have spray crews that are out spraying weed pre-emergent. That helps create a fire break alongside the immediate roadway,” said Caltrans District 10 spokesman Rick Estrada.

Caltrans will start mowing in April, but only when there is high humidity to prevent a spark from the mower blades igniting a fire. A large majority of fires are caused by liter, according to Caltrans.

“From our maintenance crews, they say what will happen is a lit cigarette gets thrown out the window that still has an ember on the end,” said Estrada.
“They say also broken glass at times. That broken glass can magnifiy and create a spark off dead grass and dead shrubs.”

Homeowners can call their local Caltrans office if they worry about overgrowth on Caltrans properties near their homes.

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