SACRAMENTO, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Californians have learned to be careful after three years of drought, keeping this year's busy wildfire season from being even worse, an expert said.
The number of fires is up this year with about 6,100 reported so far, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. But the total area burned is down.
With brush and grass bone dry in much of the state, it does not take much to start a fire. Lightning strikes have been responsible for many of this year's blazes while others have been blamed on things like a hot car exhaust pipe coming into contact with dry grass.
Some fires are also started deliberately. The El Dorado County Sheriff's Office said Thursday that a suspect, Wayne Huntsman, has been charged with arson for allegedly setting the huge King Fire and is being held in lieu of $10 million bail.
"It's surprising that we haven't had any real big fires," said Bill Stewart, a forestry expert at the University of California Berkeley. "It's amazingly dry out there. It's probably the driest it's been in 20 years."
Last year, the Rim Fire burned more than 250,000 acres in Yosemite National Park and the area around it, more than half the total for the year. This year, the Happy Camp complex in northern California has charred more than 100,000 acres in Klamath National Forest, with the total for the state about 400,000.
Stewart said California residents are more aware of the danger. They refrain from using campfires when they have been forbidden, and clear trees and brush from around their houses.
"People are getting more conscientious," he said. "People are watching how they use weed whackers around rocks now.
Thousands of firefighters continue to struggle to hold the line Thursday against more than a dozen major fires around the state, mostly in northern California. The King Fire in the American River Canyon in El Dorado County northwest of Sacramento threatened as many as 2,000 homes.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in El Dorado and Siskiyou counties. A blaze that began Monday as a small grass fire moved quickly into the sawmill town of Weed in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border, destroying 100 houses, two churches and part of an elementary school.