“It’s extremely unusual. We had an unusual combination of a long dry spell in January combined with a fairly large offshore wind event,” said Michael Wara, director of Stanford University’s Climate and Policy Program. .
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Now, should we expect wildfires like this in January?
“I think it’s more likely. We’re going to see more. In the old days it would have been an incredible and unusual event. Maybe a once in 50 year event, but these days will be more common and we’ll see once every two years,” Wara said and added, “California people need to be aware of the weather in a different way than they were before. The risk is real now.”
Instead of classifying the summer months as the start of fire season, CAL FIRE is now gearing up for a fire year.
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“We’re towards the end of January. 10 to 15 years ago we used to call it California fire season, where we could have fires, say in July, that would last maybe until September or October. So , it was only a few months. Now our fires extend into December and then into January. So it’s not really accurate to call it a fire season. CAL FIRE is trying to get away from the calling it a fire season because that doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s really now not a fire year anymore,” said Cécile Juliette, CAL FIRE’s public information manager.
As CAL FIRE units prepare for the rest of the year, they also notice that coastal regions of California are no longer wildfire-free.
The humidity that these areas normally have can no longer be expected.
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“There should be this strong influence of coastal sea fog that usually causes humidity levels to rise overnight. This did not happen last night. Humidity levels did not recover and it remained very dry,” Juliette said.
Michael Wara believes fire prevention strategies will be key moving forward.
“We have to allow some fires to burn when it’s safe. When the weather conditions aren’t extreme. So basically choose when and where the battle takes place. Instead of letting nature choose,” Wara said.
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