Jan. 24—Oh, that the rain of the past few days would be enough.
And, perhaps it will be, if forecasts for more during the upcoming week hold true.
At the least, however, the rain that does fall will not dampen the possibility of more fires.
Think about that: Fires in January?
But that's what just happened last week.
After a week of spring, or even summer, like conditions, gusty winds Monday led to downed power lines (and extended loss of electricity in some areas) and at least 20 wildfires breaking out around Santa Cruz County. While they have been suppressed, it was a jarring reminder of August's devastating CZU Lightning Fire.
And a warning that as climate change leads to more prolonged droughts, wildfire season is no longer seasonal.
Residents and fire officials alike are feeling the strain, during a time when COVID-19 has already frayed nerves.
Cal Fire CZU San Mateo —Santa Cruz Unit Chief
"There's definitely a change occurring in the climate," Larkin said. "That is having some type of effect here where we're not getting the type of rain we used to get, and we're getting hotter and drier winters."
The two rainiest months of the year in
Not only does the lack of rainfall increase the chance of more devastating wildfires in our region, but could lead to water shortages throughout
Water supplies for the state depend, in large part, on the Sierra snowpack, which last week was less than half of what water officials see as a normal depth.
With the specter of pandemic caused economic recession on the horizon,
"In 2020, 9,000 wildfires burned more than 4 million acres across the state, more than the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons combined and significantly higher than the most recent five-year average of acres burned. Hotter, drier conditions in the state's forests, driven by climate change and the consequences of a century-old legacy of fire suppression, have generated unparalleled fuel conditions that result in significant wildfire risk."
The budget rightfully calls for more spending for fire fighting and fire suppression.
While weather forecasters and scientists hope that late rains will head off another terrible wildfire year, we can't count on this year's dry pattern to change in a meaningful way. And even if it does, there needs to be continued emphasis on clearing wooded areas of dry fuel and of educating homeowners and residents about defensible space around their properties. Evacuation routes need to be clearly drawn up and communicated.
And pandemic-caused budget limitations cannot limit expenditures for fire fighting.
Moreover, the water supply needs to be far more resilient. While it's a good sign the new Biden administration has reversed course from the Trump years and is taking climate change seriously, counting on winter rainfall to refill reservoirs and replenish aquifers has become a foolish bet. Political leadership needs to get past the reflexive opposition to new projects.
Because, more conservation, more water reuse and more storage will all be required.
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