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A wet winter replenished fuels for this coming fire season

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Posted at 6:02 PM, Feb 08, 2023

Even in the midst of winter, fire crews are looking ahead to fire season. A rainy start to the year could help delay the flames but also provide more fuel.

It’s a bit of a paradox: Dry winters and dead vegetation lead to dangerous fire seasons but a wet winter and newly grown greens usher in a replenished fuel source.

"We’ll kind of have to wait and see what weather does but we know right now we’ll have a significant grass crop that can lead to a lot of initial activity [in] late spring, early summer," explained Battalion Chief Scott Hallett, Paso Robles Fire Department.

Thanks to early rains, Hallett says there has been a 15% increase in live fuel moisture, otherwise known as trees and brush. Without a wetter follow-up to the downpour from January, those extra fuels will begin to dry out.

"Our ignition probability throughout our future summer could be higher," said Toni Davis, Public Information Officer for CAL FIRE San Luis Obispo.

Experts say we have to wait and see how the rest of winter plays out before the real extent of fire season can be known. Even with heavy snow in the mountain areas, drought damage runs deep.

"A report came out today that said the tree mortality is pretty significant throughout the state due to the prolonged drought, so even though we may see a high snow pack this year with increased water content which may push us to a later fire season, tree mortality could play a big role in all this," Hallett said.

Roughly 36.3 million trees died in California last year, according to a report by the U.S. Forest Service. The primary cause is the state's multi-year drought. Hallet described it as a bunch of matchsticks ready to burn. Millions of acres of dead trees could continue to cause problems for years to come.

Fire crews emphasize that this year, with the increased fuel source, it's that much more important to be on top of your defensible space and follow the weed abatement ordinances in your city. Help them help you by keeping the brush cleared from around your home.

Depending on your property type, you may be eligible for grants from CAL FIRE to help keep your home safe. To find out if you’re eligible, you can visit their website.