AUBURN, Calif. - Cal Fire is warning of what may be a very long and very difficult fire season ahead.
"Over the next couple of months almost all of Northern California's gonna be at an above average potential for large and damaging wildfires," said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.
The state has already seen 950 fires, triple the number in an average year. And the state is in the grip of the worst drought in recorded history.
"A lot of the green hillsides up and down the state are really just masking the dead grass that's been sitting there all winter long," Berlant points out.
At the Cal Fire station in Auburn, seasonal firefighters have been in place since the end of January, nearly three months earlier than usual.
"These drought conditions that we're seeing are absolutely playing a huge factor in the size and the number of wildfires we're responding to," Berlant confirms.
Berlant warns that it's already time for homeowners to get ready by clearing defensible space.
"That means clearing dead grass and brush 100 feet from their home, trimming up the branches on their trees and clearing off any leaves of pine needles on their roof," Berlant said.
At the United Auburn Indian Community, most properties have at least 100 feet of clearing around them, and the clearing continues.
"We're gonna get to this stuff probably early in the morning. It's better to work in the morning," said tribal member Michael Ramos, pointing at grass that still hasn't yellowed.
Ramas pointed to several fallen trees he said will soon be chopped up for firewood.
"It looks kind of bad but usually we're on top of it, but we got so much stuff to take care of around here," he said at the center of the community at the top of a hill on the south side of Auburn.
For Berlant, the signs pointing to a long, difficult season are all there.
"Over half of the state's largest wildfires have occurred in just the past decade. We are seeing longer summers and hotter summers. And so this year with the drought, stressed vegetation, with the grass and brush being drier than it ever has been, the likelihood of large and damaging wildfires is even higher this year."