Well, it’s that time of year again, or is it?
Californians have been hearing about a wildfire season for many years, but officials no longer look at the likelihood of explosive and deadly fires as seasonal.
“That was a term we’ve used in the past – fire seasons – but the reality is in California we’re in fire years. There is just the potential for fire year-round in California,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie explained.
In the past, conditions that led to large destructive fires ran from about the end of June or early July through October, Battalion Chief of Communications Issac Sanchez said.
“That window has increased to May in recent history and is being pushed all the way back into December,” Sanchez said.
He pointed to the recent Coastal Fire in Orange County, which sparked on May 11 and burned 200 acres, as a “graphic example” of the earlier peak to the fire year.
While California still reaches its fire peak during the summer months, wildfires can erupt at all times of the year.
To further illustrate the point, California had already recorded 1,561 fires, which scorched 6,718 acres, as of May 6, according to the Cal Fire website.
The five-year average for that date is closer to 1,100 wildfires, so 2022 is already off to a dangerous start as we begin the peak months.
“It goes in levels of potential. Obviously, as we reach the summer months, the potential becomes higher,” Heggie said. “That’s all related to the amount of moisture in the fuel. And when I say fuel, the vegetation in California.”
With the state in the midst of another drought, which includes 2022 enduring the driest start to a year on record, there is plenty of fuel still out there to burn.
“The fuels will be drier sooner. So, therefore, we’ll start seeing some heavier activity earlier in the year,” Heggie said. “When you don’t get rain, vegetation doesn’t grow, and the fires get worse.”
As for the end of the peak season, Sanchez says that Cal Fire bases its shift to a transitional staff on current and expected weather conditions.
“If we see that we’re getting rain consistently, that will trigger some maneuvering, but it’s not tied to a calendar date,” Sanchez said.
For residents living in potential burn areas, the message is clear: Get ready early and have a plan if you need to leave.
Prepare your property by clearing a defensible space around your home.
“Do those little things to your home or your structure to reduce the potential for embers getting seated on your structure,” Heggie said.
Also, make a list of items you will need and know where to find them in case of an emergency.
Detailed instructions that will help you develop a comprehensive plan can be found at readyforwildfire.org.
“That will really outline everything that you need to do to be prepared for this upcoming summer,” Heggie said.