Fire danger extreme in foothills, mountains


It’s not unusual to post a red-flag warning for extreme fire danger in California. But what is unusual is extreme fire danger in May. 

The parched landscape is a byproduct of the current three-year drought and, in the bigger picture, of climate change. Add gust of winds near 70 mph. like what was experienced in northern San Diego County earlier this week, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Cal Fire was not caught off guard by this week’s soaring temperatures and Santa Ana winds that fueled the ignition of multiple fires in Southern California. This year, California’s seasonal firefighters have been gearing up since January; in a wet year seasonal staff might not be called back in until May.

“It’s a difficult situation with whatever resources are available when Santa Ana winds blow with two percent relative humidity,” said Chief Derek Staberg. “We’ve already sent the Three Rivers engines down south to help on those fires so that means we are rotating engines and crews in here from up north.” 

Santa Ana winds diminished Thursday to gusts of 30 to 35 mph. That gave the hundreds of personnel on the fire lines hope that the fires could be contained soon. Red flag alerts remained in effect from San Diego to Ventura counties and northward into the foothills and mountains of Kern and Tulare counties.

Red flag alerts impose a number of fire restrictions, though most are common sense like not operating power equipment, not lighting a campfire, and making sure there is at least 100 feet of defensible space around every structure. 

The type of weather pattern that is associated with the red flag alerts is one with high winds, low relative humidity, dry fuels, the possibility of dry lightning strikes, or any combination of the above factors.    

The triple-digit temperatures are melting fast what little snow there is in the nearby mountains. Phil Deffenbaugh, Lake Kaweah general manager, expects that for water storage purposes, the snow will be gone in the next few days.

“For Memorial Day weekend, we expect to have around 80,000 acre feet of water,” Deffenbaugh said. “That’s less than half of the basin’s capacity [of 185,000 acre feet].”

To give an example of where that pool will be located, Deffenbaugh said it would take at least 100,000 acre feet to have enough water to open the boat ramp at Slick Rock. 

Triple digit temperatures will end today with highs in the upper 70s in the forecast for Tuesday. No rain in site and temps in the lower 90s for the start the three-day weekend summer’s annual kickoff to the busy visitor season.

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