Wet winter mitigates drought: Hearty grasses could bring fires to stressed forests

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The National Interagency Fire Center issued its outlook for the summer 2018 fire season on Monday, declaring that drought conditions have improved in most areas. The seasonal forecast for the Southern California region is normal from May through June. Southern Arizona has an above-normal fire potential this month and next. In July and August, fire professionals will pay close attention to Northern California and Nevada.

The heavy precipitation this winter has helped most areas recover from severe drought conditions,

However, Ed Delgado, the Fire Center’s program manager for predictive services, said this is a double-edge sword for Southern California.

The winter’s voluminous rain has produced a substantial crop of fine fuels (grass). This is especially noticeable in the lower elevations of Southern California.

“There is a lot of organic plant growth which adds to the fuel level,” Delgado responded.

But the drought has left the timber areas extremely damaged, he added. Trees are still suffering from lack of moisture and many have died.

“The [lower] fine fuels can carry fire into the timber,” Delgado said. “In Southern California, we’ve had five to six years of very extreme dry conditions. A lot of mortality has occurred in the timber areas.”

The grass crop has the potential to carry the fire into the stressed forests.

“It’s not a huge risk, but it depends on how things develop in the next months. An increase in summer temperatures could change the situation in the later summer months,” Delgado added.

This weekend, two fires occurred in Riverside County. The Opera Fire near the city of Riverside was 1,350 acres and was 75 percent contained as of Monday morning. The second fire, the Jameson Fire, was near Corona in Temescal Valley on 12 acres and is fully contained.

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