Summer is two months away and state firefighters have already battled 200 more wildfires than average for this time of year, a factor that has officials concerned about what lies ahead.
Cal Fire this week reported a 45 percent jump in fire activity in the state, much of it in Southern California.
State crews have fought more than 680 wildfires, including Riverside County's 311-acre Jurupa Fire in February and the 30-acre Fawnskin Fire - a blaze that surprised firefighters because it raced through vegetation, including green timber, near Big Bear Lake.
In Monrovia, firefighters from dozens of agencies contained a hillside brush fire that forced the evacuation of about 200 homes on Saturday as crews worked to keep flames from spreading into the San Gabriel Mountains. More than 400 homes were threatened, authorities said.
"Everything is very dry statewide," said fire Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson, based at Cal Fire's Southern Operation Center in Riverside.
Cal Fire beefed up its staffing levels and moved air tankers to bases around the state last week in response to the fires, said Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott.
Authorities point to the lack of rain.
"Our firefighters have responded to an increased number of wildfires due to the very little rainfall we have received over the past few months," Pimlott said.
The past winter was Southern California's fourth driest in 135 years, officials said. Riverside and Ontario had two inches less rainfall in 2012 than the year before, and Los Angeles had one inch less, according to the National Weather Service.
And with long, hot days this summer, followed by dry Santa Ana wind conditions in the fall, officials say fire season could be very busy.
"If all those factors remain normal - hotter, drier, longer days - the potential for fires to ignite not only increases, but the potential for them to grow increases," Hutchinson said.
Angeles National Forest officials are bringing in seasonal firefighters beginning Sunday to respond to wildfires. That's not any earlier than normal.
But forest officials do plan to raise the fire danger level from moderate to high today because of the dry winter.
"We're seeing our fuel (vegetation) moisture at levels where they normally are in June," said Angeles National Forest spokesman Nathan Judy.
Judy said the warning has been issued so forest visitors keep a close eye on campfires and take other precautions to prevent starting fires in the forest and surrounding areas.
Visitors should be especially careful not to park on dry grass or brush, which was the cause of September's 4,000-acre Williams Fire north of Azusa, Judy said.
Hutchinson urged residents to start clearing dead vegetation from around their homes now - part of the 100-foot defensible space requirement that increases the chance of a home surviving a wildfire.
"People usually say, 'Oh I'll wait until June to do it.' This is not the year to wait" she said.
Tractors, not metal-bladed lawn mowers, should be used to clear fields, Hutchinson said. Mowing should be done in the morning before 10 o'clock, and not when it's dry or windy. Keep an eye on activity behind the tractor and have buckets of water nearby.
"If you're hiring people, make sure they know those same guidelines," Hutchinson said.
Fire officials recommend residents take the following steps to protect their homes:
" Keep a 100-foot space around the residence and remove dead plants, grass and weeds within 30 feet of the home.
" Trim trees six feet from the ground.
" Remove leaves, pine needles and debris from roofs.
" Create an evacuation plan in case of a fire.
" In national forest areas, visitors should check spark arrestors for off-road vehicles, chain saws and other equipment with internal combustion engines.
More information is available online at readyforewildfire.org.