Orange haze from wildfires blankets San Francisco in September 2020

Severe Wildfire Season Possible for California and the West

Parts of California and the West are already in drought conditions, as the hope for spring rain fades, which could lead to another severe fire season.

Exceptional and extreme drought has already taken hold across the West, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Dry conditions are forboding in California, which saw five of the six largest fires in state history last year. Some 4.2 million acres were scorched, roughly equal to all of Yosemite National Park burning five times.

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom struck a deal with lawmakers to free up half a billion dollars for wildfire prevention. The $536 million will pay for forest maintenance, defensible space, home hardening, and vegetation management, according to reports.

“With California facing another extremely dry year, it is critical that we get a head start on reducing our fire risk,” said Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in a joint statement.

Last month, Newsom authorized more than $80 million in emergency funds to hire an additional 1,400 Cal Fire firefighters. 

“How early the fire season starts will depend on how this year’s green-up goes and how quickly the vegetation dries due to the very low soil moisture and weather conditions,” Amanda Sheffield, an expert with the National Integrated Drought Information System, told the Washington Post.

Any rainfall, fog, and cooler temperatures would help slow the drying process, while heat and wind will accelerate it.

According to experts the Washington Post talked to, it is possible that grasses could fully cure in May in Northern California. While in Southern California, grasses could carry fire by late April.

Photo: Thick orange haze from record wildfires blankets the San Francisco Bay area in September 2020 (Shutterstock).