California’s Wildfire Season Has Almost Expired

California is so hot and dry that not even soaking rain can ease fall fire peril in the western United States. The drought has put firefighters on alert and has been blamed for up to three dozen major wildfires spreading at speeds of 30 to 50 miles per hour between October to early May, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In addition to the wildfire season wildfires, California’s annual fire season lasts from April to September, when the state’s forests and grasslands burn to fuel the state’s booming tourism, agriculture and forestry enterprises.

“The drought has been the principal driver of these fires,” said Bill Croyle, a wildfire expert with the National Weather Service and a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We’ve got a 10-year drought and most of the fires have been started by humans. They started without any spark from lightning.”

The state has also seen an increase in the number and intensity of blazes, according to Croyle. His office has tracked more than 8,600 wildfires since the beginning of the current fire season in September. Croyle added that a new category of fires, known as “wildfires of unknown origin,” could be the culprit for many of the blazes.

A fire so far this year near the town of Madera on the coast was caused when sparks ignited dry vegetation in a pasture, according to officials with the United States Forest Service.

The National Weather Service said there hasn’t been a significant rain in the state since July 9, the day before California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought. The state has experienced three of its most intense years of drought since 1920.

The number of wildfires has climbed this past year, when an unusually dry summer allowed many fires in the West to spread and quickly become out-of-control.

In addition to the state’s drought conditions, climate change is believed to be another factor, experts said.

“We’re getting hotter and drier,” said Michael Gilleland, a science and technology policy adviser with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. NASA scientists and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently warned that warmer temperatures and less precipitation are increasing the likelihood of catastrophic fires, like the ones that ravaged California last year and have devastated parts of Washington state this year.


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