California welcomed the first week of summer with exploding wildfires throughout the state. Increasing temperatures partnered with the on-going drought created perfect conditions for wildfires and will continue to do so for the rest of the season. Californians can expect future wildfire seasons to continue to grow in severity and length. The largest fire this year, the Lake Fire, has already consumed 21,000 acres of tre es and wildlife habitat in the San Bernardino Mountains. In the meantime, eight other wildfires are burning throughout California.
Longer and more intense wildfire seasons are the new normal. If California continues to see increased temperatures with less precipitation—wildfire season will grow worse and worse. Throughout the U.S., wildfires are tearing through twice as many acres per year on average than they were 40 years ago.
All wildfires need three things to burn: ignition, fuel, and the right climatic conditions. Unfortunately California has all three. Hundreds of thousands of forested acres have a growing source of fuel from the lack of vegetation management, and due to a century of misguided wildfire suppression policies. The U.S. policy was to quickly suppress all wildfires, which eliminated natural fires to clear the forest floors of woody debris causing a build up of fire fuel. The drought is also creating fire fuel at a very disturbing rate. The U.S. Forest Service’s preliminary assessment of forest conditions in some of the most severely drought-impacted areas earlier this year showed that an estimated 12 million trees have died — four times the amount of California’s tree die-off in 2014. All it takes is a small ignition source like a lightning strike or one tiny spark, and forests could go up in flames.
While many wait to see what fires start in the upcoming months, the severe drought conditions are even bringing back fires of the past. The Happy Camp Fire Complex, which burned over 180,000 acres last year, began to re-burn due to embers reigniting into fires. Historically, winter weather of rain and snow ensure that all fires are completely extinguished. Due to the lack of precipitation and snowfall this past winter embers have been revived. The small fires within the burned acreage of the Happy Camp Fire Complex are unlikely to spread, but it’s a telling sign of how California’s ongoing drought problem intensifies the wildfire season.
As the hottest days of summer are right around the corner (from early July to mid-August), high temperatures can make dry areas extremely susceptible to wildfires. Calforests urges everyone to do their part in preventing fires through fire safe protection measures and tips on how to limit the chances of wildfire spread in your area.