Despite months of warnings about extreme heat and drought, California fared well as peak wildfire season ended.
In 2022, only 362,403 acres were scorched by wildfires, compared to more than 2.5 million acres the prior year.
Experts point out that the significant decrease in fire activity may be due to luck rather than strategic factors developed by the state.
“We got really lucky this year,” UCLA geography professor Park Williams told the Los Angeles Times. “By the end of June, things were looking like the dice were loaded very strongly toward big fires because things were very dry, and there was a chance of big heat waves in the summer, and indeed we actually did have a really big heat wave this summer in September. But that coincided with some really well-timed and well-placed rainstorms.”
Although the acreage burned was relatively small, 2022’s fire season was far deadlier than last year’s. There were nine civilian fatalities, compared with three firefighter deaths in 2021.
Still, state officials say some on-the-ground efforts are working.
California invested $2.8 billion over the past two years in wildfire resilience projects for community outreach, forest management work, and prescribed burns.
Also, the state bolstered its aerial support fleet, adding nearly a dozen new helicopters that can carry more water and fly night missions.
Experts say it’s important to remain vigilant.
“We are mindful that we are not out of the woods,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at an event earlier this month.
In December 2017, the destructive Thomas Fire ignited, impacting Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Outside of peak season, the blaze was the largest wildfire in modern California history at the time, destroying 1,063 structures.
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