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Calif. fire season off to early start

| Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, 6:24 p.m.

BANNING, Calif. — California truly is the Golden State this summer — golden brown — and that has fire officials worried as they head into the peak of the wildfire season.

It's still weeks before the fire-fanning Santa Ana winds usually arrive and it's been a brutal fire season, with nearly twice as many acres burned statewide from a year ago, including 19,000 scorched this week in a blaze still raging in the mountains 90 miles east of Los Angeles. That fire, burning nearly 30 square miles, was about half-contained on Saturday.

So far this year, California fire officials have battled 4,300 wildfires, a stark increase from the yearly average of nearly 3,000 they faced from 2008 to 2012, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Until last week, those fires had burned more than 71,000 acres, about 111 square miles. The totals were up from 40,000, about 63 square miles, during the same period last year.

The annual average for charred land in the last five years was 113,000 acres, roughly 177 square miles, he said.

“We have seen a significant increase in our fire activity and much earlier than normal,” said Berlant, adding that fire season began in mid-April, about a month ahead of schedule after an especially dry winter.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who lives in Riverside County, said more than 165,000 acres (or 258 square miles) have burned in California this year, and climate change is setting conditions for more disastrous blazes, while budget cuts are limiting resources to fight them.

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