Fire engulfs a tall, thin tree trunk.The California fire season included a brutal final week in October when 183 fires started.

Fortunately, most of those blazes were quickly extinguished, but severe climate changes will continue to present challenges to residents and firefighters.

California fire season is always during the autumn months, in large part because of the Diablo and Santa Ana wind patterns. In northern California, the Diablo winds start offshore and blow northeasterly across Northern California’s Coast Ranges. As a result, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Coast Ranges closest to the Sacramento Valley are at an increased risk of fire danger in the fall, especially in October.

California fire containment becomes a big issue in Southern California due to the seasonal offshore Santa Ana winds that whip downward in Southern California and the northern part of Baja California.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Santa Ana winds occur most often in the fall, but are known to kick up at other times, too. The winds cool as they blow through the mountains, but warm up and lose moisture as the air falls closer to land. Plants and trees dry out as the Santa Ana winds blow through them.

Gusting Winds Interfere with California Fire Containment

According to The Guardian, meteorologists deemed 2019’s Diablo and Santa Ana winds the strongest known in history. Both Diablo and Santa Ana winds became so fierce, meteorologists called them an “atmospheric hair dryer” that sucked any remaining droplets of moisture right out of the already-bone-dry vegetation.

The daunting winds combined with a relative humidity that measured about one percent in some parts of Southern California prompted the National Weather Service to add a more dire fire risk warning to its charts. Beyond the danger of the traditionally worst “red flag warning,” the new “extreme red flag warning” is painted purple on the NWS fire risk maps now.

Safety Precautions

According to LAist, a part of Southern California Public Radio, the California government has required the state’s three largest utility companies to invest $5 billion to stop their equipment from setting fires.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric have begun causing intentional blackouts when fire danger becomes severe. For the first time in history, PG&E cut power to three million people Oct. 26 in an effort to prevent wildfires. Suffering through nearly a week of the blackout upset residents, state legislators and the governor.

PG&E faced a class action lawsuit filed by 14 local California governments after the company’s electrical equipment was found to have started 2018 wildfires. A $1 billion settlement was reached in June.

Critics say the power companies should upgrade their equipment instead of shutting down power, especially because despite the blackouts, PG&E has been implicated in the ignition of the Kincade fires and others.

With the average temperature up by three degrees Fahrenheit in California fire season occurs in a warmer climate with drier vegetation than found even 50 years ago.

Cal Fire Information Officer Scott McLean told The Guardian, “The prevention side of it [fire] is so important.”

Cal Fire is concentrating on clearing dry vegetation, opting for prescribed burns during calm months and ensuring hundreds of seasonal firefighters are ready to help with California fire containment.

Getting Ahead of the Fires

In the fall of 2018, the town of Paradise was devastated by the Camp Fire that left 86 dead and burned nearly 14,000 homes to the ground. The Los Angeles Times conducted an investigation that determined Paradise “ignored repeated warnings of the risk its residents faced, crafted no plan to evacuate the area all at once, entrusted public alerts to a system vulnerable to fire, and did not sound citywide orders to fell even as a hail of fire rained down.”

According to Cal Fire, almost 150 million dead trees dot the California landscape, and every one of those poses a fire danger. The long drought, climate change, disease and insects have done irreparable damage to the state’s forests.

In addition to upgrading power equipment and managing vegetation, people need to have a plan to escape a raging wildfire, especially because about a third of California homes reside in an area in or near dense vegetation, an area known as the wildland-urban interface. Today, about 4 million Californians live in homes that are particularly vulnerable to wildfire.

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If you or a loved one suffered property damage in the Camp Fire, Woolsey Fire, Hill Fire or last year’s Thomas Fire, legal help is available to help you through the claim process with your insurance company.

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This article is not legal advice. It is presented
for informational purposes only.

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