Is it Really Time For Wildfires Already?

Smoke from the Maria Fire billows above Santa Paula on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (Noah Berger/AP)

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Friday afternoon, as temperatures rose above 90 degrees, a small brush fire broke out at Hansen Dam in the San Fernando Valley.

Earlier in the week, Hollister Ranch burned as dry winds pushed embers from one parched blade of grass to another.

Unless it's wet and/or cold, it's sort of always time for wildfires in Southern California. And they're even more likely to occur following long stretches of hot and dry weather like we've had over the past several weeks.

Plenty of grass has dried out and is ready to burn, which is why we've seen a few small fires pop up. But because of the late season rains that rolled through in March and April, much of the larger vegetation is still fairly moist, meaning it's less likely to combust. And when fires do pop up, they're easier to extinguish.

"Our live fuel moistures are well above average," said Matthew Shameson, a meteorologist with the U.S. Forest Service.


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Last year's fire season wasn't as bad as the few years prior thanks in part to late rains and more mild summer weather. Though, that didn't matter much by fall, when hot and windy conditions dried everything out and quickly pushed along any small fire that started.

Cool, moist marine layers like we saw this weekend - and often see in May and June - help lower our fire risk. The week ahead may be less fire prone than the last as temperatures hover in the upper 70s, and cool masses of moist ocean air creep in.

The fire risk will rise as soon as a heat wave show up, but it'll likely be some time until we see the worst of wildfire season.

As of now, Southern and Central California is one of the only places in the U.S. with a below average "significant wildfire potential outlook" through June 2020, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The National Interagency Fire Center's fire outlook for June 2020. (National Interagency Fire Center)

Cal Fire has this to say about 2020 fire season: "Large fire potential may increase to above normal this spring across Southern California in response to the possibility of near to above normal rates of offshore wind events. 'Grassfire Season' may be a few weeks earlier than usual in 2020 with resource demand likely centered on foothill and urban interface regions."

Now's a good time to prepare yourself for a potential onslaught of embers, especially if you live within the wildland urban interface.