Compared to 2018, we’ve experienced a rather modest fire season in Northern California. Certainly, some fires this year were catastrophic to specific communities, but they haven’t been comparable to the Carr, Camp or Tubbs Fires of recent years.
But as parts of NorCal experience one of the driest autumns on record, history tells us that fire season may be just getting started.
Typically, the end of November and early December feels like the transition to winter, where snow hits the mountains and rain begins to fill our reservoirs. But current outlook shows there’s no precipitation in sight for the month of November and the dryness of this fall season could end up being historic.
Autumn thus far has been extremely dry across most of California. SoCal could see some relief this week, but rest of state will not. In fact, current outlooks suggest little NorCal precip through end of Nov. In some spots, we're on track for driest autumn on record. #CAwx #CAfire pic.twitter.com/JJ9nOYU0fw— Daniel Swain (@Weather_West) November 16, 2019
With that information, take into account the history of devastating wildfires in NorCal. Nine of the top ten most destructive fires in California’s history have occurred from September to December. This is due to the long drying period over the summer months creating more dangerous fuel sources in forested areas. The only exception to the list was last summer’s devastating Carr Fire, which started in July.
Most notably, 2017’s Tubbs Fire in Sonoma started on October 8 and burned 5,643 structures, including 22 fatalities. It was the most destructive fire in California’s history, that is until the Camp Fire began just over a year later on November 8, 2018. That fire destroyed 18,804 buildings and took 85 lives.
Here are the other notable NorCal fires that made the top ten in destructive California fires:
- Tunnel Fire – Alameda County – 2,900 structures destroyed in October 1991
- Valley Fire – Lake County – 1,955 structures destroyed in September 2015
- Nunns Fire – Sonoma County – 1,355 structures destroyed in October 2017
- Jones Fire – Shasta County – 954 structures destroyed in October 1999
The larger fires (in acreage) in California’s history typically occur between July and August, but it’s the fires in the fall months that see the most structure damage. In spring, it seemed we may be able to avoid another devastating fire season. But without any significant precipitation in the following weeks, we may just be seeing a delay of the inevitable.
Note: We wrote a similar article on September 18th, 2018. Just 8 weeks later, the Camp Fire completely destroyed Paradise. Please stay prepared.