After Wettest Winter in Years, California Faces Summer Wildfire Threat

The National Interagency Fire Center's summer wildfire outlook was released Thursday

Parts of the Southwestern United States, including California, could face above-normal danger of significant wildfires this summer, according to the National Interagency Fire Center's summer outlook.

The report released Thursday said wildfire risk will be high in inland Southern California in July and in parts of Northern California during August and September. The state is coming off one of its wettest winters in years, which left hillsides covered in grass and other vegetation.

That grass will dry out this summer and turn into tinder, providing fuel for rapidly spreading fires often pushed by strong winds.

The report noted what could be a delayed start to the wildfire season in some locations. 

"Above normal precipitation and soil moisture is leading to a robust green-up across the West," the report said. "Overall cooler than average temperatures and a heavy snowpack have led to slower than normal melting of the mountain snowpack in nearly all locations across the West. This should lead to a delayed start to the fire season in the higher elevations which may, in turn lead to a compressed season."

Cal Fire reported 921 fires that burned nearly 15,000 acres from Jan. 1 through May 20 this year. The state firefighting agency reported 844 fires during the same period in 2016 with only 1,729 acres burned.

The agency has been urging residents to take prevention steps now, such as maintaining 100 feet of defensible space around homes and other structures. Defensible space provides a natural buffer between buildings and grass, trees, bushes, shrubs and other vegetation that can burn.

An increase in the number of dead and dying trees also can exacerbate the wildfire threat, Cal Fire officials said. An estimated 102 million trees have died in California due to the state's five-year dry spell and bark beetle infestation.

The report also said Hawaii and parts of the Southeastern United States could face above-normal danger. The risk on the Big Island of Hawaii is expected to be above normal through September.

Southeastern Arizona and western New Mexico could have above-normal risk in June, according to the report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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