California’s 2018 wildfire season was the most devastating on record, with the state’s largest and most devastating fires ever occurring within a 5-month period. And while the hefty rain and snow that fell on the state this winter singlehandedly rescued us from a drought, it may not save us from another devastating fire season.
Federal forecasters sat in front of the United States Senate recently to relay this grim message, where California’s potential for deadly and destructive wildfires may not be over.
“It’s hard to imagine a repeat of this experience, but this is the potential reality that we face again this year,” said Jeff Rupert, director of the Office of Wildland Fire for the Interior Department, during his opening remarks at a Senate hearing.
The National Interagency Fire Center has already determined that “above-normal, significant large fire potential is expected” during August and September in sections of the state, mostly in Northern California.
Since October of 2017, Northern California has fallen victim to the two most destructive fires in California history (Tubbs Fire, Camp Fire), with one also being the most deadly (Camp Fire). California’s largest fire ever (Mendocino Complex Fire) also occurred in 2018.
“It’s difficult for me to sit here this morning and say that a challenging year is ahead of us because the wildfires that we’re now experiencing are consistently more destructive than they’ve ever been,” Rupert said.
For many, the changing climate means that destructive wildfires could be the new normal in the United States. And with the wild winter of 2019 bringing more fuels to the ground in California’s forests, the wet weather may not have helped the problem, but provide more fuel for the flames.
“Some observers believe the stage is set for fire activity similar to the indescribable damage and staggering loss of life that we saw last year in Northern California,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said during her opening remarks during the senate hearing.
Over the next 25 years, the National Climate Assessment predicts that global warming will double the area burned by wildfires nationwide and lead to longer wildfire seasons and more frequent droughts.
For Northern California, wildfires are nothing new. But the upcoming years may just see them get bigger and more dangerous than ever.