It’s early July. Outside, it’s dry and hot — fire season in Southern California. Despite the noticeable absence of rain, recent fire outlooks and assessments do not raise catastrophic alarms.
Do not be mistaken. Southern California is in the midst of an above-normal risk of fire, according to the National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Services group.
In its July 1 “Fire Potential Outlook,” the authors wrote, “Above normal significant wildland fire potential is expected along the coast and foothills across Southern California and the hills and mountains surrounding the central valley in July.”
Locally, the Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Center in Riverside, an interagency fire support group, wrote, “The driest fuels, in general, are located in Southern California south and east of Los Angeles County. Fuels in these areas have been close to record dry levels at times this spring which is more of a reflection of the dry winter than the moderate conditions of spring,” according to its July outlook.
However, these authors did note that live fuel moisture is higher than normal for June and July. They expect it to drop to normal summer levels in August.
Most of the fire outlooks have expressed more concern for the Sierra Foothills because of the number of dead and dying trees. They report some areas with tree mortality exceeding 50 percent.
“Parts of California and the Sierras [have] really dry fuels, particularly grass and brush fuels. We’re also starting to see an increase in drying conditions across the mountains and foothills and some of the central valleys of California,” said Ed Delgado, the national program manager for predictive services at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
And the drought conditions are returning, according to the National Weather Service.
Alex Tardy, meteorologist at the NWS San Diego office, describing the winter rainfall, said, “Most areas were below 40 percent of normal [precipitation] including all of Southern California.” He added that San Diego experienced the second driest winter ever. And for Orange County, it was the driest ever.
Tardy also noted that drought conditions were worsening.
All of the reports are forecasting a moderate El Niño weather pattern to develop during the fall and into the 2019 winter.