The number of acres burned in California through the beginning of August 2019 is 26 times less than the number of acres burned at the same point in 2018, according to new statistics from Cal Fire.
Through August 11 of this year, 23,748 acres of California land not controlled by the federal government had burned. At the same point last year, 618,996 acres had burned. Though to be fair, Scott McLean, a fire captain with Cal Fire, said 2018 was a record year for acreage burned in California at 1.8 million acres burned by wildfires.
But even compared to an average year, the number of acres burned in 2019 is still over 10 times fewer than the previous five years.
So why have there been fewer fires and fewer acres burned so far?
One reason is that we may finally be reaping the benefits of the exceptionally wet 2016-2017 rainy season. It can take several years for the moisture to be absorbed by trees, bushes and grass, explained McLean. While the state’s reservoirs have above-average water levels, the vegetation still has to catch up.
“Things don’t just automatically get wet,” he said. “The vegetation doesn’t gather all of that moisture within the first rain.”
The intense dry seasons that followed in late 2017 and 2018 resulted in some of the worst and deadliest wildfires California has every seen. This year, the weather is much cooler than it was last year and heat waves haven’t been lasting as long.
So, the moisture of the vegetation and recent weather are two reasons why there aren’t as many intense fires so far this year. But what about the state’s prescribed burn efforts?
McLean said Cal Fire has been ramping up prescribed burn efforts – low intensity fires conducted in cooler months meant to reduce buildup of fuel for fires that may break out during hotter months – in reaction to the last few fire seasons. He said “people are very leery” of the tactic, but it’s done to “prevent or mitigate these severe fires that we’ve had to live with the last couple of years.”
The state government has also made it easier for prescribed burning to take place. In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on wildfires in order to expedite forest-thinning projects. Before him former Gov. Jerry Brown called for doubling the amount of forest land thinned by 2023.
Although the state is having a decidedly less drastic wildfire season in 2019, McLean said that California residents, municipal governments and state agencies “can’t be complacent.” Over the past few years, some of the harshest fires have broken out in August, September and October, the end of the fire season.
“Just don’t be complacent, do what we’ve asked in the years passed,” McLean said (Cal Fire has an entire website dedicated to wildfire preparedness). He mentioned a fire in Mendocino County, the Moose Fire, that grew to 225 acres and forced evacuations. As of August 14, that fire is 45 percent contained.
“You just have to be prepared,” he said. “I’m thankful and ecstatic that we’re looking at only 24,000 acres burned compared to last year with almost 620,000 in the same time period, but still…you can’t be complacent.”
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/california-wildfires-26-times-less-cal-fire-camp-14302351.php.