Southern California didn't get the El Niño rains that other parts of the state did this year, and is still very much mired in a drought that's dragged on for years. Now, fire officials with the US Forest Service are bracing for the effect that persistent dryness will have on this year's summer wildfire season. The federal government will put out its official wildfire outlook in three days, but they've already said things aren't looking so great for the region, says the Daily News.
2015 was a record-setting fire season in a bad way. More total acreage burned than ever before and the Forest Service, which is the country's main firefighting agency, spent $1.72 billion to fight those fires. While this year is not expected to set any new records overall, there are going to be some trouble spots where fires will probably be especially bad.
"So where we anticipate the severity of the fire season will not be at the same level as last year, we still expect to have some areas that will be really active," US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell tells The Associated Press. One of the areas he singled out to be "really active" was Southern California. After years of drought in the region, "the fuels are thicker, drier and are susceptible to flare-up with the slightest ignition point," a Cal Fire San Bernardino Unit Captain tells the Daily News.
Forest trees are now vying for a limited amount of water, and some of them aren't going to get it. Crispy, dry trees not only burn better, but they also dry out from the top down. Their parched tops invite flames to jump up and spread from treetop to treetop "faster than firefighters can keep up."
The Santa Ana winds aren't going to help anything when they come either; they not only dry the trees out more but fan flames when fires start up. (SoCal has two fire seasons: Santa Ana fire season and summer/non-Santa Ana fire season.)
This not-great news comes as some climate experts say that El Niño might screw with our May Gray and June Gloom, reducing their presence this year so they bring less moisture to plants and vegetation—something these scientists are worried might hasten the start of SoCal's fire season.
SoCal has some of the most urbanized forests in the country, a San Bernardino County Fire Department spokesperson points out, so these fires are extra dangerous because of their proximity to well-populated areas. Foothill communities snuggle right up to Angeles, Cleveland, and San Bernardino forests, and fires in those areas can have dangerous consequences not only for the forests themselves, but also for buildings where people live and work. 2014's Colby Fire, for instance, made its way into Glendora, ultimately torching a historic mansion and 14 other structures.