Fog brings relief though fire danger lingers
After this week’s sizzling summer preview, a returning marine layer and strong sea breeze promises refreshing relief for the Bay Area this weekend.
RIP Summer (4/29/14 – 5/1/14). You will be mist.
— Karl the Fog (@KarlTheFog) May 2, 2014
Still, as the region’s residents welcomed the cooler weather, fire officials across the state remained busy preparing for an early and what they fear could be one of the state’s worst fire seasons.
A record-setting drought has kept many of the region’s grassy hillsides a dull hue of parched brown all winter. Fire officials say the lack of rainfall, early and unseasonably hot temperatures and almost unheard of winter wildfires are worrisome precursors to a long, dangerous summer.
Even before Northern California’s dry winter turned into a balmy spring, firefighters were busy battling an unusually high number of wildfires.
From the first of the year through the end of April, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, crews had already responded to more than 1,100 wildfires that had consumed more than 2,500 acres.
Even before this week’s heatwave Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott warned:
“The drought has set the stage for a very dry and potentially dangerous fire season.”
In an average year for the same time period Cal Fire crews would typically respond to about 500 wildfires that would burn about 1,300 acres.
During winter months, the region’s rugged hillsides usually turn a brilliant green and the forests are typically damp, muddy and moist from winter rains. Mudslides and flooding are usually a concern — not wildfires.
But in December — in an almost unprecedented event — at least 15 homes were destroyed by a wildfire in Monterey County’s Big Sur area.
Even after a handful of late winter and early spring storms brought welcome moisture to the state, fire officials anticipated getting busy again.
Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant continues to sound the alarm, including this dire warning he issued last month:
“We have not seen these type of conditions in decades. The closest comparison in the mid 1970’s which were devastating years for wildfires.”
Indeed, just last week, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered state agencies to “redouble” efforts in response to the dry conditions.
In an executive order the governor warned:
“The driest months are still to come in California and extreme conditions will get worse.”
Less than a week after the governor issued his orders, the region was gripped in a record-setting heat wave.
As temperatures soared, the National Weather Service reported the hottest temperature in the nation midweek was recorded in the central California community of Arroyo Grande, where it hit 99 degrees on Wednesday.
Record highs were also set or matched across the state, including in San Francisco, where the high of 90 tied a record. Forecasters noted it was hotter in San Francisco than it was in Las Vegas.
More records fell across the region fell including in Livermore where it hit 95 and in San Rafael where it was 91 on Thursday.
In the Salinas Valley farming community of King City, where firefighters battled a wildfire outside the city, it was even hotter, setting a new record for the day at 97 degrees.
With the summer preview, fire officials continued to urge the residents of suburban and rural areas to maintain a “defensible space” around their homes and for people enjoying parklands and wilderness areas to be careful with campfires or disposing of cigarettes.
In his weekly “Fire Situation Report,” Berlant said:
”One less spark is one less wildfire.”