Even though record-breaking rainfall brought California’s long-lived drought closer to manageable levels, temperatures will soon spike and some experts believe this year’s fire season across the state may challenge the severity of last year’s record.
“Recent rains have created a large crop of grass that will cure in the peak of summer thereby creating a readily available fuel which can catch fire quickly,” Cal Fire Capt. Elizabeth Brown said. “Fast-moving fire with a light wind can have devastating effects for residents.”
In just a few days this week, several small-scale wildfires erupted in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, charring fields and some mountainsides.
From the beginning of the year to April 22, Cal Fire has battled 320 wildland fires statewide that charred 5,841 acres, according to its website. In 2016, the state fire authority battled 489 wildland fires that burned only 530 acres of land over the same period.
“Grass has carpeted all landscapes in San Bernardino County including desert areas that have not been a cause of fire concern due to the prolonged drought,” Brown said. “Everyone needs to have a plan in place, and we’re urging everyone to use caution when they are in wildland or open land areas.”
The abundant amount of rain that fell on the Southland this past winter has fed vegetation, increasing a substantial growth.
“Six years of sustained drought cause fuels to burn much faster and hotter than in non-drought conditions,” Brown added. “The rain we received this year has created a grass crop that when dry will carry fire swiftly and easily.”
In August 2016, the drought that cursed Southern California for several years wreaked havoc when flames erupted in the Blue Cut Canyon area of the Cajon Pass, igniting a firestorm that forced thousands to evacuate their homes with some returning to devastation.
The Blue Cut fire rapidly spread, consuming nearly 57 square miles (more than 37,000 acres) of terrain throughout the Cajon Pass. The fire roared in different directions toward Lytle Creek, Wrightwood, Phelan and the Oak Hills region forcing the shutdown of a section of the 15 Freeway, exploding in size and leaving some seasoned firefighters speechless.
“In my entire career, I’ve never seen fire activity like what we witnessed during the Blue Cut fire,” San Bernardino County Fire spokesman Eric Sherwin said. “The behavior of the flames were so erratic and intense, it moved into so many different areas at the same time. It was like it had a mind of its own.”
Climatologist Bill Patzert of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said the winter rain wasn’t enough to replenish water tables and didn’t even fill up the groundwater reservoirs.
“Fire has always been part of the California landscape and the last five years were the driest due to drought conditions, so the water tables that many say are up are still in punishing low levels,” Patzert said. “We’re a little euphoric when it comes to the winter rain, but really we didn’t get much.”
Following the winter rains the ground today may not be as dry as it was 12 months ago, but now there’s more tall grass and underbrush growing so state fire officials suggest many businesses and homeowners take the time to prepare for wildfire possibilities.
That’s where technology and fire prevention come together. State fire officials designed a new smartphone app called Ready for Wildfire to provide critical wildfire information instantaneously.
“This new tool puts a whole library of step-by-step checklists in the palm of the user’s hand,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said in a statement. “It allows homeowners to track their progress while creating defensible space hardening their homes with fire-resistant construction, assembling an emergency supply kit and creating a family communication and evacuation plan.”
Users also will be able to receive notifications in the form of customized alerts to their smart devices, alerting them when Cal Fire responds to a wildland fire in their area. Fire watch guards will also be available.
“One of the many benefits of our new Ready for Wildfire app is the timely and accurate information it provides to residents about a wildfire in their area,” Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott wrote. “I am excited about this new valuable tool that will provide early alerts to the public to help ensure their safety.”
To download the app, go to the App Store or Google Play Store and search for Cal Fire.
Patzert also warns that the San Bernardino National Forest isn’t the only woodlands devastated by the tree-killing bark beetle.
The urban forest took a beating during the drought, bringing the bark beetle into the city’s environment and causing concern of urban area fires erupting when the Santa Ana winds come full force at summer’s end, Patzert said.
“By any measure, no matter what, we’re set up to see a big fire season,” he added.
On – 26 Apr, 2017 By Doug Saunders