Intense wildfire seasons now normal in California
The California wildfire season of 2017 is one that won’t soon be forgotten.
The morning of Oct. 9 is the date that is particularly seared into the memories of firefighters and victims of wildfire in neighborhoods across Northern California.
In Nevada County, the Lobo and McCourtney Fires erupted in a flash of wind and downed power lines, while in Napa and Sonoma Counties, the Tubbs Fire quickly grew to be the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history, killing 44 people and burning over 5,000 structures.
“We have a report from one of our firefighters who lives in Coffey Park (Santa Rosa), woke up and within 30 seconds, was running down the road in his underwear, holding a fire extinguisher running from the fire,” CalFire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox recalled. “He dropped the fire extinguisher because it got too hot, but he witnessed the fire wall overturning vehicles as he was running into the park to survive.”
Wind gusts in Calistoga topped out at 93 mph, helping move the Tubbs fire at about a football field a second.
“I had a reporter on the fires in Santa Rosa that night, she ran up to me, she hugged me and started to cry, ‘Are we going to die?’ We’re OK, but stick with me, you’re going to be fine,” Cox said.
While the scenes described by Cox sound like something from the end of days, he and other CalFire officials are saying this type of fire activity is now to be an expected normality for residents of the Golden State.
While the 2017 fire season was a perfect storm culminating five years of drought, a heavy rain year and a hot summer, the 2018 fire season has already begun.
This year, with the relatively light snowpack, CalFire officials are keeping a close eye on elevations above 6,500 feet that have already begun to dry out.
“Their fuel is two tons higher per acre than last year and can mean challenges for the 2018 fire season,” Cox said. “One thing of concern is the drought monitor is going backwards this year.”
Steps CalFire is taking to help alleviate issues from wildfire include ramping up their management component as well as becoming more involved in city planning.
In the 1980’s CalFire used to treat with prescribed burns on about 60,000 acres of land, which has since dropped to about 20,000 acres due to air quality control and general uneasiness of prescribed burns in communities.
Cox hopes that number will climb back up to 60,000 acres in the next few years.
“What we like to say is, a little bit of smoke now under our control, is a lot better than a lot of smoke later in mother nature’s control.”
CalFire has also gotten into the conversation of land use decisions to make sure the consideration of wildland fires is taken into account when building.
“It’s taken 100 years for us to get in this predicament, it’s going to take 100 years to get out of this predicament,” Cox said. “It’s human intervention and we’re paying the consequences of that now.”
To contact Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez, call 530-477-4230 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.