Fall Fire Season Could Arrive Next Month, Experts Say

The OC Fire Authority factors in temperatures and the fuel moisture of plants on the ground to determine how to tackle fires as they break out.

It’s possible that the fall fire season could arrive as early as next month in drought-stricken Southern California, according to some experts.

Though no one can predict a fire, Orange County Fire Authority wildland expert George Ewan believes you can plan for it.

Ewan tests plant clippings for moisture, or the lack thereof, to determine the flammability potential of foliage. He says green plants should reach moisture levels of 200 percent – something he hasn’t seen in a while given the current drought.

"When we reach 60 (percent) that is very critical," Ewan said. "The live new growth will burn just as (fast as) if it’s dead growth."

A sample taken from the OCFA’s own property measured less than 19 percent. Information such as this is then entered into a national database.

Scientists also use satellite maps to take into account temperature and its effect on fuel moisture to determine the conditions firefighters can expect on the ground.

"The hot temperatures tell you the stress on the plants, the stress on the plans means low fuel moisture, low fuel moisture means it will burn more easily," Chapman University physics professor Menas Kafatos said.

According to Kafatos, a yearlong study showed that red flag conditions existed in January and that based on trends, the wild land conditions in June and July will be more like one would expect in October.

"Every year is worse than the previous year and we see that here," Kafatos said.

The OCFA takes information such as this to determine how to deploy resources if a fire breaks out.

The OCFA does not pre-deploy firefighters, but if they know the conditions are extremely dry with low fuel moisture, they will send extra firefighters if and when a fire does break out.

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