California is so hot and dry that not even soaking rain can ease fall fire peril.
The U.S. Forest Service is warning that Santa Rosa is at risk of becoming the wettest fire county in California history, when a major fire season burns through November and December. And fires in the San Francisco Bay Area to the north pose a threat in California, too.
What gives firefighters a shot at saving the state’s landscape?
The answer is a combination of factors, and several of them are beyond any individual fireman. All you need is to be prepared with the right tools and gear, and an understanding of how to use them and the limitations of weather and terrain you may face.
Let’s start with the geography. In the San Francisco Bay area, some counties have no fire danger, while others are in the zone.
In Marin County, the burn season is so wet, it’s not even unusual to have a wildfire. In the fall of 2018, the San Francisco Bay Area received more than its full allocation of snow and rain, and fires started by the end of September in most of Santa Rosa and most of Sonoma County burned through the end of October. (The Bay Area receives much less snow and rain than most other regions of the state, so when wildfires have already started before a significant storm, the weather in the Bay Area is usually too wet to support them.)
In the fire-prone mountains of the Sierra Nevada, even a fire that burns mostly in one valley won’t spread too far to threaten homes and firefighters, but a series of such fires can quickly grow.
You’ll also want to consider the effects of drought on the landscape. This year alone, there have been more than a dozen separate wildfires in the state, and every one of them was fueled by recent, extremely dry conditions.
“The drought may be the most important factor in the fire season in the Sierra Nevada,” Steve Anderson, a National Weather Service forecaster in Reno told me this week. “The dryness is like a wet paintbrush that gets everywhere.”
If you’re trying to keep your property out of harm’s way, you need to be prepared to deal with wind, high heat, and a lack of rain, particularly during the critical early part of the fire season. The only way to stay out of trouble is to keep your fire