The snowpack in the Sierras is at 120% of its mid-June average, which is good news for California’s water woes. But this impressive wet season has come at a huge cost.
The heavy storm systems that drenched California earlier this year resulted in beautiful super blooms and greenery. Now in the heat of summer, however, this dead foliage is nothing more than wildfire fuel. US Forest Service and Interior Department officials recently warned senators that the upcoming wildfire season would be worse than last year's, which left dozens of people dead in California.
"It's hard to imagine a repeat of this experience, but this is the potential reality that we face again this year," said Jeff Rupert, director of the Office of Wildland Fire for the Interior Department, during his opening remarks at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. "So, it's difficult for me to sit here this morning and say that a challenging year is ahead of us because the wildfires that we're now experiencing are consistently more destructive than they've ever been."
Eighty-five people died from November's Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California's history. The fire virtually burned the town of Paradise to the ground, destroying thousands of homes and structures, and has cost billions of dollars in economic losses.
What’s more, the Paradise Irrigation District is still working to restore clean water to the ridge. So far, the district is making big strides toward turning non-potable water into drinking water in the town. The district put a call out for volunteers in the Camp Fire burn scar that would be willing to let them test their water for the first two weeks of June.
In anticipation of peak wildfire season in the months to come, Cal Fire, under an executive order from California Governor Gavin Newsom, released a report identifying 35 top-priority projects to thin vegetation in and around more than 200 vulnerable communities. The fire agency is now working with local communities to carry out the projects and is calling on the state’s National Guard to help execute them.
Meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric, which cut power to 21,000 residents in Butte and Yuba counties earlier this month, plans to do so more often during arid, windy periods when wildfire risk is highest. The utility company, whose equipment was responsible for sparking last year’s deadly Camp fire, intends to shut off power to more than 5 million customers as a preventive measure.
It is difficult to predict how bad the rest of this fire season will be based on the number of fires so far, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Our worst fire years aren’t necessarily the years that we’ve had the highest number of fires,” he noted. “All it takes is one – one huge, destructive fire to ruin the whole year.”
Hotter, drier summers are increasing the chances that every year for the foreseeable future “is going to be a bad fire year,” Swain said. In the past, a wet winter would slow the onslaught of big blazes, he added. “But nowadays, it almost doesn’t matter whether we’ve had a wet or dry year in some of these regions. The summers are so warm that everything dries out.”
As such, Babcock Labs would like to remind you to abstain from lighting fireworks and bonfires this Fourth of July. Never leave a fire unattended. If camping, completely extinguish the fire before sleeping or leaving the campsite. Take care when using lanterns, stoves, and heaters. As Smokey warns, never play with matches or lighters. During summer months, create a defensible space by keeping your property lean and green to protect your family and home.
We hope you have a safe and fun summer!