Fire officials are bracing for the summer months as fuel moisture in vegetation continues to diminish

Fire officials are bracing for the summer months as fuel moisture in vegetation continues to diminish
Posted at 8:13 AM, May 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 11:13:00-04

Fire season is year-round in California, and coming out of winter and spring seasons that brought below seasonal rainfall amounts, firefighters across San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties are bracing for the summer months.

"Santa Barbara County has received, as stated, 47 percent annual rainfall from what we're normally used to," Santa Barbara County Fire Public Information Officer Daniel Bertucelli said.

According to Bertucelli, Santa Barbara County firefighters have already responded to multiple fires across the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys this year. While crews have been able to keep those fires small, as moisture in fuels diminishes the outcome could be different.

"As those fuels moisture dry out and continue to dry out, this summer season it will make it more and more difficult to catch those fires at that smaller size," Bertucelli said.

Chris Dicus, a professor of wildland fire and fuels management at Cal Poly, says from the coast to the valleys, no area of the central coast is off-limits when it comes to where a fire could start.

"Well, especially with the shrub we have in our area, the chaparral, it's either on or it's off and it's all related to the moisture in those plants," Dicus said. "Because of our lack of rain, we are in critically low moisture and so they can facilitate large, devastating fire at any point."

According to Cal Fire, between January 1 and May 2 of 2020, there were a reported 938 wildfires across the state. During that same time frame for 2021, 1,575 fires were reported.

"We are a fire-dependent ecosystem that a lot of the plants have adapted to live in high-intensity fires, which is great for the ecosystem, not so great for the people living among it," Dicus said.

According to Paso Robles City Fire Marshal and Battalion Chief Randy Harris, in terms of fire season, the central coast is about two months ahead of where it would normally be this time of the year.

"What's happening is that while we didn't bring in a ton of rain for the seasonal grass crops, the brush is actually burning at a faster rate of a spread than we normally do this time of year," Harris said.

Plus, fuel moisture in shrubs, like chamise, which is common throughout the central coast is at a historic low.

"We are finding is that our annual fuels have not grown as much, however our brushes, our coyote brush in particular in the north county is very, very dry," Harris said.

According to the Western Regional Climate Center, the precipitation departure for October 1, 2020, and ended May 9, 2021, were roughly eight to 12 inches across much of San Luis Obispo County and eight to 20 inches for Santa Barbara County.

For more information on how to be prepared for a wildfire, click here.