The Cambrian

Wet winter likely to push back fire season until May

Fire season is exptected to arrive in mid-May this year, later than during the drought year of 2016.
Fire season is exptected to arrive in mid-May this year, later than during the drought year of 2016.

California’s fire season could start a little later this year, thanks to extensive rain and flooding in the winter.

Cal Fire officials said they anticipate the season could begin in mid-May, a change from the past few years, said Cal Fire spokesman Chris Elms.

Because of the drought, the fire season in recent years has typically started in mid-April, Elms said. And, he added, last year’s fire season never officially closed.

The 2016 season brought devastating wildfire to the North Coast, with the Chimney Fire raging through more than 46,000 acres from the Lake Nacimiento area through Hearst Ranch to near Hearst Castle.

Of the predicted mid-May fire-season start, Elms said, “This actually is kind of normal.”

So what wildfire expectations should Californians have this year? More grass fires because of the new crops that sprouted up after the rain, Elms said, but probably not as many devastating fires.

“I think the best takeaway is that we may not see fewer fires,” Elms said, “but I don’t think we’ll see the intense, big fires that go on for days and days and days.”

Local firefighters say property owners can help reduce the risk by starting now to clear away some of the brush, fallen branches and other potential tinder.

Dan McCrain, captain with the Cambria Fire Department, said Monday, March 13, that with this winter’s heavy rains, “the grass has grown a lot taller and thicker, faster than usual. Once that dries out, there’ll be a lot of potential” for a small fire to start, and for a small fire to get bigger faster.

The recent clear weather, hot sun, warm air and winds on the North Coast can hasten the drying period for grasses and light fuels, McCrain said, which means now is a good time to start on annual weed-abatement/fuel-reduction chores.

That’s what the firefighter was doing March 11 and 12 at his own home, he said. The nice weekend seemed to be a good time “to get started on getting rid of some of the bigger brush” and other fire fuels.

While the grasses could continue to grow for a while, especially if the area gets more rain, he said property owners could even consider thinning out some of the grass now, which could make it easier to do the full weed abatement later.