The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho is predicting that the fire season in Southern California could be above normal by the middle to end of June.
Map courtesy National Interagency Fire Center

Weather — winds, temperatures and precipitation — plays a critical role in fire behavior and predictions. The recent wet and cold winter and spring may have delayed the arrival of the traditional late-spring fire season, but fire agencies are expecting it to begin before June ends. By the end of summer it could develop into a normal or even above-normal fire season.

The recent weather produced two results affecting fire outlook. First, the grasses at lower levels are plentiful. In Southern California, the grasses were already turning brown before the late May storms. This will continue.

The second, and countervailing result, is the fuel moisture count is at or near all-time records. Cal Fire’s Southern Operation Predictive Services unit says, “Dead fuel moisture is far above average over all areas outside the desert. It will be many weeks before live fuel moisture drops toward critical levels.”

This may be one reason prescribed burns could be difficult to complete.

Even the U.S. Forest Service’s National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said in its latest report, “Fuel moisture values across most areas outside the valley are at historically high values (records at most of these stations go back 35-45 years) and it will likely be a delay in seeing much fire activity compared to recent years.”

The National Weather Service precipitation forecasts for the next month and next three months indicate an equal chance of above- or below-average rain. The fire services expect the summer monsoon season may be subdued because of the continuing weak El Niño forecast or remain east of Southern California.

During July, the NIFC is predicting above-normal fire activity on the Southern California mountains. Map courtesy National Interagency Fire Center

But the basic late summer fire expectations continue as normal. South Ops wrote, “Given the likelihood of warmer than normal weather and a lack of monsoonal moisture, we expect large fire potential to climb to above normal levels again this year.”

“Looking ahead to August and September the fire potential and resulting activity should increase to Normal in most areas except along the West Coast where Above Normal significant large fire potential is expected due to fuel loading and preexisting dry conditions,” according to the NIFC fire outlook, which was published Saturday, June 1.

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