‘Above Normal Potential' for Large Wildfires Ahead in Southern California

Five years of drought, strong Santa Ana winds and above-normal temperatures spell wildfire danger for Southern California

Southern California faces an "above normal large-fire potential" this month and lingering through fall due primarily to vegetation left dry by five years of drought and the usual round of dangerous Santa Ana winds.

The dire wildfire activity outlook came Tuesday from Angeles National Forest officials, who said a normal number of Santa Ana wind events could combine with above-normal temperatures to create fire hazards.

"That affects most of Southern California south of Kern County, and possibly a greater frequency of events in November and December," said Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia. "The outlook also calls for above-normal temperatures, and below-normal precipitation for this time of year, (with) above normal large-fire potential, slowly returning to normal."

A major ongoing problem has been vegetation that has dried out because of the drought, Garcia said. More than 83 percent of the state is under moderate drought, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor. That's down from 97 percent one year ago. 

More than 21 percent of California remains in exceptional drought, the most severe Drought Monitor category. That figure includes a large swath of the Southern California coast and Central Valley, north of Los Angeles.

The state's water year ended on Sept. 30 and marked the 11th driest year on record for precipitation in downtown Los Angeles (6.88"). Downtown LA is in its driest five-year period on record and just finished the driest summer since 1978.

Garcia made his remarks in a conference call with reporters, accompanied by White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, who discussed the challenges faced by administrators funding wildfire firefighting efforts nationwide.

"This (past) year, the cost of fighting wildfires exceeded the funding level Congress provided to the forest service for fighting wildfires," Donovan said. "This is something we've seen in six of the past 10 years.

"The fundamental reality we're seeing is that rapidly increasing costs of fire suppression are outpacing increases in the overall budget of the forest service."

Their comments came as Southern California braced for fire weather this week.

Critical fire weather conditions are likely across parts of the Southland from Wednesday through Saturday. A fire weather watch will be in effect for the San Fernando Valley and the Santa Monica Mountains.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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