Fire Season

May 28, 2016


Pico Blanco crowned with fire. (Lloyd Jones photo)

The grass on the hills is turning brown, seasonal streams are disappearing, and swarms of face flies have emerged to launch their annual shock and awe campaign against backcountry travelers.

This can only mean fire season is upon us. As is traditional at the start of fire season, the media has begun warning that this fire season is expected to be especially bad – maybe the worst ever. In wet years, this prediction is based on the grass being high. In dry years, on the simple fact that things are dry.

In reality, no one really knows what kind of fire season we’ll have. This is because the amount of rain we do or don’t receive in the preceding rainy season is less important than the kind of weather we get in the summer. In years when there are a lot of warm, windy days with low humidity (which is another way of saying days when offshore flow pushes the marine layer out to sea), there are likely to be more, and worse, fires. Fires simply ignite more easily in these conditions and, once they ignite, spread much more quickly.

It’s also worth remembering that the three largest fires to burn in Monterey County over the past 50 years (Marble Cone, Kirk Complex and Basin Complex) were started by dry lightning. Dry lightning storms are relatively rare in our area, but when they do occur they can overwhelm firefighting resources by starting hundreds of fires at once. Obviously, there is no way to predict whether such an event will happen in any given year.

As vividly demonstrated by the December 2013, Pfeiffer Ridge Fire, fire danger isn’t even limited to fire season. Given the right conditions, serious fires can occur at any time of year.

So how about this year and every year we all just make damn sure we don’t let our catalytic converters, tow chains, weed whackers, wood stoves, electrical wiring, guns, etc. start any fires and, meanwhile, make our homes as fire resistant and defensible as reasonably possible?