California Prepares for More Wildfires

Sept. 15, 2022
The U.S. Southwest is in its most severe drought in 1,200 years.

Bloomberg reports that California is preparing for wildfire season after a relatively calm season.

The state is undergoing a heat wave, deepening drought, which is making tinder dry weeks before seasonal hot winds are expected, deepening the threat of wildfires.

One utility said it may need to cut power to 50,000 Southern California homes and businesses to prevent fires, reported Bloomberg. Bloomberg reports that the U.S. Southwest is in its most severe drought in 1,200 years.

“I am kind of holding my breath,” said Daniel Swain, a climatologist with the University of California, Los Angeles, reported Bloomberg. “If we do get those ignitions and the wind events, all bets are off.”

So far, 272,144 acres burned as of Sept. 8, compared to the 2.32 million acres in the same period a year ago. This year's statistic is 18% of the five-year average, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), reported Bloomberg. However, 6.3 million acres have been scorched nationwide, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. 

A Cal Fire Statewide Fire Summary from Sept. 14 states that:

"As of this morning, there are 8,320 firefighters making progress on 10 major wildfires and three extended attack wildfires in California. Yesterday, firefighters also responded to 38 new initial attack wildfires across the state and achieved full containment on one major fire. Since the beginning of the year, 345,222 acres have burned in California."

According to Cal Fire Sept. 15, approximately 7,500 firefighters are working on 11 major wildfires and have responded to 33 new wildfires across the state, reported Bloomberg.

California’s has endured a heat wave since late August, with record-breaking temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to more electricity demand and risks of blackouts, reported Bloomberg. The heat is expected to last through Sept. 16. Although Tropical Storm Kay will drift into the region, conditions for fires are elevated.

Doubling of wind speed causes a fire to spread four times faster, according to Janice Coen, a project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, reported Bloomberg. 

“That can both cause an ignition by interacting with utility infrastructure and spreading the fire rapidly once it starts,” said Coen, reported Bloomberg. “They can spread to 10,000 acres within a few hours. People have said they only have minutes to escape from the moment they see embers coming down.”

"Northern California may experience a slight chance of a shower today, primarily across Siskiyou County," stated the Sept. 14 California Statewide Fire Summary. "Weak troughing through the end of the week continues to bring as much as 8 degrees below normal temperatures. Additionally, the region will experience areas of breeziness today with W-SW-S winds, and then more NW-W-SW tomorrow with peak gusts 20-30 mph favoring Greater Bay Area, Coastal Range, and northern/eastern areas. Southern California will observe a quiet weather pattern bringing about an onshore flow. Temperatures will trend downward the next few days with locally breezy weather returning to the deserts. Temperatures today will be in the lower to mid-80s."

Bloomberg reports that the U.S. Southwest is in its most severe drought in 1,200 years.

“The potential for damaging fires still remains extremely high,” said Jon Heggie, a battalion chief and spokesman with Cal Fire, reported Bloomberg. “We are really at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

So far, statewide wildfires have unfortunately killed nine people, reported Bloomberg. Two in the Mill Fire near the Oregon border and two more in the Fairview Fire near Los Angeles. 

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Cristina Tuser