Much of California is already in wildfire season after an extremely dry winter left vegetation brittle and water levels low. With winds and hot temperatures in the forecast starting this week, and no rain or snow expected in the near future, conditions aren’t likely to improve, fire experts said.
Statewide, firefighters battled 925 fires from Jan. 1 to April 1 — about the same as those dates in 2021, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. However, the acreage destroyed this year is almost double what burned during those months last year.
“Most of the state is already in moderate to extreme drought,” said Cheryl Buliavac, fire prevention specialist at Cal Fire’s Shasta-Trinity Unit. This year’s fire season could be worse than last year’s.
By Saturday, winds pick up to 40 mph and weekday heat will have dried out the North State, pushing fire danger to what the weather service considers moderate levels.
“Vegetation is as dry now as it would be in a normal year in mid-June,” Buliavac said. That’s in part because precipitation forecasted over winter didn’t arrive or dropped less rain than expected.
It’s not just one dry season that’s making 2022 potentially worse for fire than 2021, said Karl Swanberg at the weather service in Sacramento. “It’s a combination of conditions overall.”
Some portions of the North State got more rain this winter than last year, he said.
15.44 inches of rain fell on Redding from Oct. 1, 2021, to April 6, 2022
13.27 inches fell from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021
What’s making 2022 worse is having two very dry years back-to-back, both well below the 28.54 inches of rain per year considered normal, Swanberg said. The cumulative effect is stretching out the fire season even longer.
Extremely windy conditions this winter further dried out thirsty trees and brush, Buliavac said. “It’s very concerning because we were under similar conditions the last few summers.” While fire danger is still present in Sacramento and the southern Sacramento Valley, that area appears slightly greener and less dry than the north valley, Swanberg said.
Snowpack levels dropped to 16% of their historic average throughout the Scott River sub-basin in the Klamath National Forest, west of Yreka, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s latest measurements, taken throughout the basin on April 1, when the snowpack is at its maximum.
Less snow means less water for communities and farmers — not only in Siskiyou County, but at lower elevations in Trinity and Shasta counties. The latter rely on meltwater to raise humidity levels and water vegetation. Without a good snowpack, there’s not enough slow meltwater running down the mountains into the valley, Buliavac said.
North coast forecast
Coastal residents are seeing fire risk grow starting this week, too. Temperatures soared into the high 80s, drying out the historically humid San Francisco Bay Area, according to the weather service.
This weekend, strong offshore winds will further dry vegetation, increasing the potential for fire starts and spreads.
Surrounding areas, including the North Bay, won’t fare better, the weather service said. Wind gusts out of the north and northeast could reach 70 mph over Napa and Contra Costa counties late Saturday into early Sunday.
Relief could come Monday, when up to half an inch of rain could fall, the weather service said, but warm dry spells and wild winds will likely visit again this year.
Further up the coast, inland areas such as Ukiah are reaching the low 90s. That’s definitely warm for April, said Jonathan Garner, meteorologist with the weather service in Eureka.
Vegetation is still green, so fire danger is less in the northwest corner of the state, he said.
Statewide in 2021, firefighters battled 8,835 fires that destroyed 2,568,948 acres. Nine of the 10 largest fires were in Northern California, including the 963,309-acre Dixie Fire which burned in five counties, the 223,124-acre Monument Fire in Trinity County and the 221,835-acre Caldor Fire east of Sacramento to Lake Tahoe.
How to prepare for fire season
Cal Fire encourages residents to prepare for fire season:
- Property owners should consider creating defensible space early in the year, before temperatures soar. For more information go to the Cal Fire website at bit.ly/3x6ttzy.
- Prepare a “go” bag in the event of an evacuation. If you never unpacked last year’s bag, replace anything that expired: Batteries, food, water, pet food, etc.
- Make sure to plan two ways to get out of your home and two routes out of your neighborhood.
For more ways to prepare for fire season go to Cal Fire’s Ready for Wildfire website at readyforwildfire.org.
For more information about fire safety, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.
CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.