Southern California firefighters shared their outlook on the months ahead as the drought-stricken region enters summer with hillsides covered in dry brush.
Fuel moisture levels are well below historic averages in parts of Southern California, meaning vegetation is drying out more quickly this year. Dry vegetation is one significant factor in the spread of wildfires.
"I foresee a very tough, four, five, six months in front of us," said Brian Fennessy, chief of the Orange County Fire Authority.
The state is coming of one of its driest late winters on record, leaving hillsides covered in dry brush. Factor in the region's notorious Santa Ana winds in the fall, and the situation in the months to come appears dire.
"We used to have a fire season that went from September to December with Santa Ana winds," said Ventura County Fire Chief Dustin Gardner. "Now, we have the season starting and strike teams out every month of the year and we see we're ready to burn now in June."
California continues to face longer wildfire seasons as a direct result of climate change, according to CAL FIRE.
"Extended dryness originating from January is expected to continue into the spring with little precipitation, leaving most of the state in moderate to extreme drought conditions prior to summer," the state's firefighting agency said in a 2022 fire season outlook. "These continued dry conditions, with above normal temperatures through spring, will leave fuel moisture levels lower than normal, increasing the potential for wildland fire activity."
Several damaging fires have already burned this season in Southern California, including the Coastal Fire in the Orange County community of Laguna Niguel. The fire started in a costal canyon, quickly burned uphill and tore through a neighborhood, destroying 20 homes and damaging others.
Firefighters at the Wednesday news conference stressed the importance of brush clearance, which creates space for firefighters to defend homes from flames.
"We will provide the offense, you will provide the defense," said LAFD Capt. Erik Scott.