- Associated Press - Friday, June 20, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - With the first day of summer Saturday and the Fourth of July coming up, Southern California officials are warning residents to prepare for what’s expected to be one of the most dangerous fire seasons the state has seen in years.

In light of the extreme drought conditions persisting in California, fire and elected officials held a news conference Friday to urge residents to take precautions now.

Officials said they expect summer to be the peak season for wildfires, but the drought is so severe that it has made California’s fire season year-round. Downtown Los Angeles, for example, is about to close out the July-to-June rain year with slightly more than 6 inches of precipitation, nearly 9 inches less than normal.

Firefighters have already battled 2,324 wildfires across the state since Jan. 1, scorching more than 26 square miles, officials said. More than 200 of those fires burned last week alone.

“At the end of the day, homes will be lost, especially if basic precautions aren’t done, but our main goal is to protect people,” said Assemblyman Christopher Holden, D-Pasadena. He represents the foothill communities of the San Gabriel Mountains, some of which have been repeatedly ravaged by wildfires.

Legislators included an additional $90 million in funding for firefighting capabilities in the state budget Gov. Jerry Brown signed Friday. The budget also included an additional $13 million for the California Conservation Corps and another $10 million in grants to local firefighting agencies.

Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief John Todd said residents should not wait for an evacuation order to leave their homes if there is a fire in the area.

He also emphasized the importance of property owners taking the necessary precautions before a fire occurs.

“We realize that homes are sometimes burned by flames, but more often they’re burned by embers that infiltrate your homes if you haven’t cleaned off the pine needles and other flammable material around your roofs and gutters,” Todd said.

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