How the latest Sierra storm affects wildfire risk in Northern California


SODA SPRINGS – Opening day for several Sierra ski resorts came a week early: Boreal, Heavenly and Kirkwood welcomed skiers and snowboarders to the mountain on Veterans Day due to over two feet of snow that fell in parts of the Sierra.

Fuels, which have always been dry in the Sierra and increased the risk of wildfire danger, are wet from rain and snow. That’s a relief for CalFire crews, at least for now, because as humidity levels increase, the risk of fire decreases.

“Trust me, this is a welcome relief for fire season, but just like last year we saw heavy rainfall in December, times of year without fire seasons have become less predictable,” said Brian Estes, head of the CalFire unit.

Estes said the snow and rain are reducing the fire risk now, but they weren’t guaranteed to last through February.

“We still don’t know what the next few months will look like, with the number of fuel types we have, two months of dry weather, we’ll see the propensity for wildfires to burn through the winter,” Estes said. .

He explained that the wildfire risk in California does not disappear at any time of the year due to the type of fuel types in the jurisdiction.

“The key to whether there’s a fire danger or not is how dry the fuels are, this storm really got them wet a lot,” said UC professor Andrew Latimer. Davis.

The National Interagency Fire Center released a predictive forecast on Friday that said cool, wet weather over the past two weeks has “significantly dampened flammable combustible alignments in the region,” meaning there is “little or no risk of ‘significant fire’.

The outlook covers November 10-17 and covers Northern California including the foothills and the Sacramento Valley. The same outlook found that in the Greater Bay Area and the Sacramento Valley, “a few irregular spots” may experience “a little higher” fire danger until sufficient greening can occur. Likely, however, this will likely be limited to “periods of strong/dry winds occurring over the next few weeks”.

Latimer said it would take multiple precipitation events, such as snow and rain, to halt the statewide drought. The more than two feet of snow in the Sierra that fell this week, he noted, was a welcome first step and start.


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