GOLDEN VALLEY - When the rains don't come and the desert becomes hot and dry, the danger of wildland fires increases dramatically.
Monsoon is just around the calendar corner, with more than its share of lightning storms, the kind that increases the chance of fires in the creosote, dry grass and mesquite so prevalent in the high desert.
When wildfire is accompanied by high or erratic winds, as they too often are, those conflagrations can spread to homes, businesses and other structures.
The burning ban in Golden Valley is about a month old now. Golden Valley Fire District Interim Chief Rudy Barboa said statistics show most firefighter deaths occur in residential blazes, and the department's staff training concentrates heavily on that aspect.
"We inspect commercial buildings about twice a year, so we're familiar with the layout and where they have their equipment. With businesses we have a level of familiarity, and we can plan how to fight a fire in those places, if we ever need to," Barboa said.
"We practice commercial fire drills so the people who work there are familiar with the exits and set up meeting spots. Each business needs to have one contact person for accountability."
But fighting fires in homes presents a unique set of challenges.
"We're very aggressive when it comes to fighting home fires," he said.
"This department actually developed a new technique that helps keep wildland fires from becoming home fires."
He said the technique involves placing a tanker truck between the approaching fire and any residence being threatened.
"It's so successful that the Bureau of Land Management is actually using it in their firefighter training," he said.
"Needless to say, we're very proud."
GVFD hosts a wildland interface class for its rookies. That course includes how to protect homes in Golden Valley, an area that is changing rapidly from wild, rural desert to a heavily populated community.
"The problem is greatest in rural desert and forest communities that are popping up fast in the West," Barboa said.
Preparation is the key, he said. Residents should move fireplace wood stacks, barbecues and propane tanks and other flammable items at least 15 feet away from the house.
"That's what we call the safe zone for family homes," he said.
"There are three zones, the house and the immediate surrounding area; a defensible space a little farther out where you should have at least 10 feet between any large vegetation; and a fuel reduction zone where you need to keep weeds down and have your trees and shrubs apart at least one-and-a-half times the height of the plant.
"For example, if you have a five-foot shrub, you shouldn't have another one any closer than seven or eight feet."
Those rules, continuous training and the department's state-of-the-art equipment are the tools the GVFD uses most to combat wildland-turned-residential fires, he said.