California’s drought-fueled fires have been especially damaging to rural communities

California is so hot and dry that not even soaking rain can ease fall fire peril, according to a new study.

The recent heat and drought that has baked much of the state into a “fire desert,” where fire-ravaged forests and grasslands are drying out from lack of moisture, has been bad news for firefighters, scientists say. Although they may be doing their best to save homes, their efforts could be costing them, too.

Fire-affected areas have seen the first year-over-year decline of wildfires across the state since the devastating fires of the 1950s. For the first time since then, California’s annual fire season has broken a record, and the state is on track to be in the top 10 for the number of active fires per year — more than half the historical average — this year, experts said.

“We’re in the midst of what’s very close to a fire desert,” said John Colwell, a professor of climate studies at the University of California, Davis. “Fire can’t get out, even if the rain comes.”

“We don’t have enough moisture to replenish dry grass,” said Robert Kopp, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of California, Irvine. “It’s as if a drought is happening now, and it’s going to go on for years.”

The new drought-fueled fires have been especially damaging to the state’s rural communities, which were hardest hit by the worst of the fires in the region, experts said.

In Southern California, where dry conditions have been especially hard on homes, the Los Angeles Times ( http://lat.ms/R4bP3G ) found:

• More than half the homes destroyed by the recent wildland fires in Sonoma County and Napa County were destroyed by wind-driven fires.

• About 30 percent of the homes destroyed by the recent wildland fires in Kern County were destroyed by wildfires.

• In Ventura County, where more than half the homes destroyed by the recent wildfires were destroyed by lightning-caused fires, about 40 percent were destroyed by either strong winds or fires that started by human hands.

“We were hit pretty hard,

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