Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Crying Fire 

During the rainy season in California, a major part of the local news is "Storm Watch" coverage. Usually this takes the form of devoting the first fifteen minutes of the newscast to cover every angle of a brief sprinkle. Now that the rainy season is coming to an end (finally), another story that gets recycled year after year has returned:

Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman told NBC4's Robert Kovacik that due to heavy rainfall earlier this year, 2005 could be the most dangerous fire season yet.

Of course people said that last year, and in 2002, and 2000. 2003, with its tragic fires in San Diego, actually lived up to the warnings.

Anyone who has lived in California can tell you that every year there will be a story (likely several) that includes the line "This has the potential to be the worst fire season ever." It doesn't matter if the rainfall was below average, above average, or normal. How can this be? Here's how:

If there is a drought: All the vegetation is tinder-dry and will catch fire more easily. The brush will be so dry that a fire will progress rapidly, especially if there are strong winds.

If rainfall is normal/above average: The rains allows more vegetation to grow. When the summer comes, that brush dries out. Because so much brush has grown a fire will progress rapidly, especially if there are strong winds.

I'm not saying fire isn't a serious danger every year. People lose homes, firefighters get injured, and sadly people will likely die every year from wildfires in the American West. People need to learn how they can help, like clearing brush from around their homes. I just worry that people will tire of the annual predictions and not follow through with what they need to do.

Fortunately, there are a few voices of reason, who do their best to educate the public without engaging in hyperbole:

The National Interagency Fire Center, which predicts the possibility of fires throughout the country, said there could be severe fires in the areas outside of Los Angeles this summer but Los Angeles should have a normal fire season through August.

"It's our feeling here that every summer is an active fire season," said Ron Hamilton, a fire-weather meteorologist for the U.S. Forest Service's Predictive Services group.

"We have hot, dry winter all summer, every summer. Yes, we're going to have a lot of fires. We're going to have a lot of initial attack activity, and those fires are going to burn fast and burn hot. But with the resources that exist here, we're not going to have a lot of unusually large fires."


People need to be vigilant for every fire season, but every fire season isn't going to be the worst fire season ever. I hope this one isn't.

Comments:
I see that we all have had the same questions from year to year about the "fire season" in California. I remember when we lived in Fresno, and every year, regardless of the rain/snow in the winter. I like that someone has finally given a good explanation to it.
On another note - I hope that it isn't raining tomorrow, as we will be on the correct coast for the first time in 2 years.
Talk with you later
 
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