UPDATE 8/31/2016 6:30 PM:

A total of 5,139 fires have charred 460,446 acres in California since the start of the year, according to Cal Fire. Fire officials also said more than 10,000 firefighters were battling nine large fires burning throughout the state, including the Soberanes and Chimney Fires in Monterey County.

While people might hope a new month would signal improved conditions and fewer fires, officials offer a dire warning.

"We really haven't seen, potentially haven't seen, the worst of it yet," Monterey Fire Chief Gaudenz Panholzer said.

Early fall tends to be the most concerning for firefighters.

"We generally experience more fires in September and October than the rest of the year,” Panholzer said. “So certainly we are very concerned about the fact we've already had significant fires burning throughout the state."

Grass and other fuels have dried out, making them more combustible, and these months tend to be windier, which can fan any flames.

“It's not so much they start more readily,” Panholzer said. “It's that when they do start, they spread much more rapidly and we see larger growth in fires and they're more significant."

Bill Birdsong believes it was the dry vegetation and strong winds that pushed a small fire toward his Monterey home on Tuesday. Authorities say the fire off Haul Road and Holman Highway began when a tree branch fell on top of power lines. That shorted them out and ignited the vegetation. Crews held the fire to a half acre, but Holman Highway was closed for a time.

"It's pretty scary and the smoke was overwhelming and the fire was so close, I mean within 30 feet and it just took off,” Birdsong said. “I mean within an hour it burned this whole entire hill."

Though he and other neighbors were confident firefighters would contain it quickly. Aircraft dumped retardant on the fire, slowing the spread of flames.

"I had some concerns but at the same time, I called my husband from my car and he assured me it was being dealt with right away and I didn't really feel fear," Shelley Nemeth said.

Until the threat of wildfires wind down, fire officials are asking people to maintain defensible space and have an evacuation plan ready, in case they’re forced to flee a fire.


Cal Fire typically marks peak fire season in September and so far its already been a very busy year across the state of California.

Locally, firefighters are still battling the Soberanes Fire and the Chimney Fire. The drought is also having an impact as hillsides remain dry.

KION's Mariana Hicks speaks with residents who got a scare Tuesday night during a small fire along Highway 68 and fire crews who were able to get it under control quickly.