Will California Be on Fire This Summer?

California is already making national headlines due to its severe and unprecedented drought, the worst in recent human history. A second chapter in the state’s drought story will begin unfolding this summer, however, with a wildfire season that government agencies predict will be even worse than usual. California will be on fire this summer, even with ample protective measures like suspending burn permits, cracking down on cooking fires, and reaching out with public education to remind people about the dangers of smoking, using fireworks and sparklers, and failing to maintain woodstoves and spark arrestors. That spells big economic, environmental and social trouble for the Golden State, which will likely be seeing red by August.

In the short term, wildfire forecasts for the state do not look good. Starting this month, California is looking at elevated fire risks along most of its coastline and throughout the mountains. In June, the situation will get even worse, creeping over the northern region of the state and nibbling at the edges of the Central Valley. In August, conditions could be even more severe. The state has already fought a statistically unusual number of wildfires this year and it’s burning through the firefighting budget at an alarming rate, reminding government agencies of especially bad fire years like 2006 and 2011, when firefighters came from as far as Australia to assist the state with multiple large fires.

Fires in California are particularly bad for a variety of reasons. One is the dry conditions that prevail during the summer months — California rarely experiences significant rainfall after April, except in isolated regions of the state, and this year, rains were short and limited in the earlier part of the year, setting up for especially dry conditions. The state also houses some highly flammable native and introduced plant species like chaparral and eucalyptus, which can practically (and sometimes literally) explode in high heat. Furthermore, the state’s forests haven’t been well-managed, with active fire suppression ironically making fires worse.

Fires are a natural part of the environment, and when small, low-temperature fires are allowed to burn themselves out, they keep the environment healthy. New plants can emerge from the enriched soil left behind, large trees are left largely intact because the flames don’t get hot enough to kill them, and the environment stays in balance. When fires are repeatedly suppressed, tinder builds up, and they can quickly flare out of control.

Moreover, California has some unique weather patterns, particularly the notorious Santa Ana winds of Southern California. These warm winds can gust across the state, fanning the flames and spreading fires quickly across some of the state’s most populous regions — highlighting another problem with California’s wildfires. As a state with a very dense population and heavy development in wildfire-prone regions, California is forced to fight the bulk of its wildfires rather than allow them to burn their natural course, which requires a substantial investment of resources.

For California, this wildfire season will likely be accompanied with a substantial loss of forests, animal habitat and property, even with dedicated work by wildland firefighters. Moreover, the state may also be looking at severe pollution from wildfires; Californians will likely be seeing some stellar sunsets this summer thanks to particulates in the atmosphere, but that’s about the only good thing to come out of it. Heavy pollution can be harmful for people with pulmonary conditions like asthma, and it can interfere with agriculture as well as industry — heavy smoke and particulate pollution may make it difficult to fly aircraft, for example.

With a grim forecast ahead for this year, California isn’t just thinking about how to cope with more fires in 2015. Unless significant rainfall alleviates the state’s drought, this problem will only get worse, and Californians may need to rethink how they manage the land, and where they settle their homes. The tendency to rebuild after fires tear through communities, for example, may need to be reevaluated — if homes are lost to fire, it’s a tragedy, but it may be time to move to a less sensitive region.

Photo credit: The U.S. Army

46 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Carole R.
Carole R4 years ago

frightening.

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Barbara S.
Barbara S.4 years ago

We always have fires in California. Developers who constantly branch out into areas where fires are known to be prevalent are as much to blame as the Santa Ana winds. We don't need more new housing tracts in fire-prone areas with swimming pools... We need to rehab neighborhoods that are already established, and make them available to people who aren't millionaires. The more new ones we build, the more wealthier people will come in from other countries and states and buy them. We need to learn to make-do with what we already have, and if they don't meet the desires of the wealthy, let them buy in other states without our fire hazard zones.

What irks me are the tourists who drive by the signs all over our canyons that read: WARNING! FIRE HAZARD ZONE! NO CAMPFIRES, NO CIGARETTES! And then they park their cars, get out, light a cigarette and start hiking. I can't tell you how many times I've watched a tourist flip a lit cigarette over onto our wooded property and walk on... All I can do is get out with the hose and waste water making sure it doesn't catch any pine needles or leaves on fire. I've stopped being sweet and cordial. Now I'm sure I'm known as the bitch on Westshire. Tourists have no vested interest in our neighborhood, and for we who live here, it's our greatest investment and our lives, plus the lives of the animals - domestic and wild. These are also the same people who see the signs saying: Unsafe canyon walls: DO NOT CLIMB. And they do it anyway, and then have t

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Sheila D.
Sheila D4 years ago

I agree that forest management needs to be reassessed. Never cleaning up the forests is just as bad, or worse, than clearcutting. Even the Native Americans knew to start grass fires every few years so as to keep the flammable debris from piling up. But the people in charge now can't seem to find a happy medium; it's either all or nothing. Yes, it could be a very bad year.

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Jane R.
Jane R4 years ago

I pray for all of California. It's people and all the wildlife.
I wouldn't live there for anything.

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M Quann
M Q4 years ago

😥

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Angela AWAY
Angela K4 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Ruhee B.
Ruhee B4 years ago

I feel sorry for the poor wildlife - they are completely helpless - so sad :(

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Mahmoud Khalil
Mahmoud Khalil4 years ago

thanks

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

I feel like I can guarantee it is going to be a wild ride in a blazing inferno using up what little water resources we have. What REALLY pisses me off is the stupidity of still allowing fireworks in the state. Where is the sense in that when there are inevitable house fires because of the illegal fireworks which are flying in the neighborhood like a war zone and the police won't even try to stop it. Bruce K. reminded me, when I passed by Shasta over the winter there was barely enough snow to cover the top 1/3 to 1/2; the lake is almost empty.

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