By Ryan Sabalow
REDDING, Calif. — A roadside grass fire last week in Siskiyou County showed just how fireprone the north state has become, 2½ months into an incredibly dry winter.
A fire that ignited next to Interstate 5 on Thursday afternoon near Montague quickly burned 54 acres before firefighters were able to knock it down, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Berlant said the fire was one of several across California that have erupted this winter in what should be damp grass and brush.
He said Cal Fire commanders already are talking about whether to begin gearing up for fire season months early.
"We're watching the weather very closely to determine where we need to staff up," Berlant said.
Unfortunately, a storm that dusted north state mountains with snow Sunday night did little to help grow the north state's abysmally low snow pack, though it did help cover brush and bark threatening to poke out of many of the Mt. Shasta Ski Park's runs.
But park spokesman Jim Mullins said one of three chairlifts remains closed at the park as managers wait for a large enough dumping to cover runs not kept open by artificial snow-making machines.
Maury Roos, a chief hydrologist with the California Department of Water Resources, said Siskiyou, Shasta and Trinity counties' mountains have less than a third as much snow as they should this time of year.
"It could be if we don't start getting closer to average, we might end up to being closer to our driest water years," Roos said.
Firefighters and ski resort managers aren't the only ones noticing.
Ned Coe, north state field representative for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said local ranchers are hugely dependent on seasonal stock ponds that catch runoff.
While Sunday night's storm helped fill them a bit, ranchers like him remained concerned the ponds will dry up way earlier than they normally would, Coe said.
"We haven't had very much runoff," Coe said. "It's mostly been soaking in what rain has come."
The dry grass that spawned Siskiyou County's wildfire also doesn't bode well for ranchers whose cows eat the stuff, Coe said.
He said one exceptionally dry year also creates a ripple effect that takes a few stormy seasons to catch up.
"That's going to put a pinch on things this summer and down the road for a couple years to come," he said.
Copyright 2012 Record Searchlight