Historic California Drought Creates a Hazardous Situation: Year-Round Fire Season April 28 2015
California is in the death grip of a historic drought, and the situation is only getting worse as fire season is evolving into a year-round event.
Cal Fire fire captain Mike Mohler told NBC News with the lack of moisture, “You get explosive fire growth.”
The peak for California’s wildfires is usually summer into early fall, intensifying by late-September or October due to Santa Ana and Diablo winds, weather.com senior meteorologist Jon Erdman explained in an earlier story. The threat typically diminishes in the winter, which is considered the region's "wet" time of year, because of growing mountain snowpack and returning moisture.
But during the last two winter seasons, the rain and mountain snow totals in the region were well below average. The lack of moisture is no more apparent anywhere else than it is in the California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, where snowpack has plunged to record lows.
The community of Swall Meadows, nestled in the Eastern Sierra, is one example of the growing hazard of explosive fires, as they experienced a blaze that burned 35 homes and swept over 7,000 acres of land this past winter, San Jose Mercury News reported.
Dale Schmidt, volunteer fire chief, told Mercury News before the drought became a huge factor, the area where the fire started would normally be covered in snow. “That’s the mental state people were in,” he said, “Winter is not the season for fire danger.”
The trend of dangerous fires has been growing since 2000, though, Daniel Berlant of Cal Fire said, who revealed higher temperatures are becoming increasingly problematic as create dry vegetation, a catalyst for explosive fire speed.
Cal Fire has had a busy year on its hands already, responding to almost 850 blazes since Jan. 1.
Those dangerous blazes are occurring during a wildfire season that has been extended by an average of 70 days, Mercury reports, a stark contrast from 40 years ago.
To combat and prepare for the looming situation, Berlant unveiled Cal Fire’s new goal to NBC: shifting their focus to prevention work instead of suppression.
California residents and crews are working to meet this goal by clearing combustible materials, boosting the health of forests, creating defensive zones around homes and using fire resistant materials in construction projects.
But as Swall Meadows resident Annie Barrett Cashner told Mercury News, “California, brace yourself. From what we’ve seen, it’s coming.”