We as Californians grew up knowing that wildfire season peaks during mid-summer through early fall following the dry season. However, new patterns suggest fires in the state may no longer be so predictable.
Last year saw the worst wildfires on record in California. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) recorded a total of 6,284 fires and 876,147 burned acres. The year finished with Camp Fire, a wildfire that raged through Butte County, killed 85 people, and destroyed the entire town of Paradise. It was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in recorded California history, the deadliest in the U.S. since 1918, and the sixth-deadliest in the world.
Experts attribute the new wildfire patterns to climate change and its effects. In recent years, persistent drought across California dried out vegetation – it became dangerous enough to warrant a drought emergency. In addition, the state has recently seen uncharacteristically hot weather. Heat waves last summer broke records in Southern California; Death Valley reached 127 degrees, and Palm Springs hit 121. The heat and drought turned the state into tinder.
Even as we work to stop climate change from getting worse, the new weather patterns in California might be here to stay. As a result, residents must take year-round action to mitigate the problems that welcome the spread of wildfire.
“We need all Californians to accept fire as part of our natural landscape, understand the potential fire risk, and take action before a wildfire starts in order to minimize harm to residents, homes, businesses, and community assets,” CAL FIRE said in a 2018 press release.
The Department encourages all residents to take measures to safeguard their homes from the danger of fires, including:
- Using fire-safe construction features,
- Creating a defensible space outside by clearing brush at least 100-feet or more away from the home,
- Looking for points of entry where embers can enter the home during a fire, and
- Using fire resistant landscaping to help stop the spread of wildfire.
CAL FIRE’s Ready for Wildfire app is a useful tool for year-round preparation. Checklists in the app help homeowners prepare and keep a defensible space, learn about ignition-resistant building materials, and create family evacuation plans and kits. The app also offers alerts when CAL FIRE responds to a wildfire of nearby.
Taking these steps can minimize your risk of becoming a victim while helping to stop the spread of a future wildfire, should one arise near you.