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Conditions Ripe For Fire Season
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Recent weeks have seen a handful of grass, hay and vegetation fires in the local area, and it's likely to get worse as we wind our way through summer.

Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Rick Mello said the less than normal rainfall for the water year that ended July 1 has helped create conditions conducive to summer wildfires.

"The area is very dry and very prime, the 100-degree temperatures we had last week had a definite impact," Mello said. "This week, it's a little bit cooler but the winds are up."

The region typically enters fire season in late May, said Mello, and it can stretch as far as into late October, depending on conditions. For local firefighters, that means they are just getting in to their busiest season.

"We still have a lot of potential for 100-degree days," Mello added of the region looking at summer weather for at least the next two months.

This week, crews from Escalon assisted with a large hay fire in nearby Farmington and also handled some grass and brush fires of their own. So far, no Escalon firefighters have been called out on strike teams but with multiple fires in California, that call out could also come any day.

As far as abatement of weeds, brush and other fire hazards on properties throughout the area, Mello said the fire department identified more than a dozen spots in need of attention.

"These were all in the rural areas and we did an auto notification through the county," Mello said of informing property owners of the need to abate the potential hazards. "We identified 14 parcels, 13 have been abated and one is in process."

Many of the parcels were along River Road, east to Henry as well as some along the Escalon-Bellota and Lone Tree corridor.

"We've always had good cooperation," Mello said of working with the property owners in getting the hazards addressed.

Meanwhile, the department has started over in its search for a new Battalion Chief, looking for a replacement for the recently retired Fred Manding, who was filling the post on an interim basis. Manding also works part time as an assistant fire chief for French Camp and wanted to scale back his hours in retirement, opting to stay on in French Camp but leave the Escalon job.

Two finalists for the position both fizzled out, said Mello, with one from Washington State and the second, retired from CalFire in Angels Camp, failing to make it through the final interview process.

"We're going to start the search over," Mello said.

Donnoe Associates of Sacramento will begin the search again.

"It will just be open until it's filled and we will see how it goes," Mello said of the position, which fire officials had hoped to fill by August.

In the meantime, Mello and Battalion Chiefs Terry Pinheiro and Joe Pelot are covering the shifts that would be handled by the third battalion chief. While that works out to a bit of a cost savings, Mello said the added hours are tough on those filling in.

"We ultimately do save money but you can't keep doing that," he said of having current personnel fill the gaps.

Also, the nomination period for two seats on the fire district board officially opened on Monday, with the positions currently filled by Steve Reichmuth and John Wright up for election. Those interested can get nomination papers from the county Registrar of Voters office in Stockton to run for the post in the November election. Terms are for four years and the papers must be filed by Aug. 10, though the deadline is extended to Aug. 16 if no incumbent files to run for reelection.