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What a wet winter could mean for wildfires this summer

Posted at 10:09 AM, Apr 06, 2023

The recent rain storms have increased vegetation across the Central Coast, and while the grass is greener, it’s not necessarily better for the upcoming fire season.

KSBY spoke with CAL FIRE about what to expect as the warm weather approaches.

“As we get into the spring and into the early summer, we're expecting to have an increase in fire activity,” said CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Luke Bourgault.

With this year’s heavy rainfall, Bourgault anticipates fire activity to begin earlier this year, particularly in the interior grasslands like Shandon and Paso Robles.

He explains, “The grass — the lighter, fleshy fuels, we call them one-hour fuels — they dry out faster.”

CAL FIRE Public Information Officer Toni Davis says they are keeping a close eye on higher-risk areas.

“They die out quickly, and they catch quickly and they carry and the wind pushes that fire through it like nothing,” Davis said. “Anywhere where you're going to see grasslands, just rolling hills covered in them, that's going to be our huge concern as the weather starts warming up and the grass starts dying.”

At the same time, the rain may also postpone the potential for larger blazes.

“The bigger vegetation like the brush and the trees are going to hold moisture longer into the summer, so we will potentially not see large fires until later in the summer,” Bourgault said.

CAL FIRE plans to beef up staffing in the near future and carry out prescribed burns to help eliminate fire fuel.

“We want to get our folks trained up. We want to make sure that the public's preparing their defensible space around their homes so that we have an advantage to go and help put those fires out when they happen,” Bourgault said.

It may feel like fruitless work at the moment, but CAL FIRE says that preparing earlier this year is key.

“It’s been difficult to get out there and do that because we have had rain every week, it seems like,” Davis said. “We have had the consistent rains so that grass just keeps on coming back. But continuous maintenance makes it easier than waiting until that day in April or May and it's starting to warm up and then you take the chance of possibly starting your own fire with hot equipment being utilized on dead grass.”