'Elevated Concerns' for Wildfire Season Amid Calif., Texas Droughts

By Mark Leberfinger, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
May 15, 2014; 8:00 AM ET
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Already this year wildfires have run rampant across parts of California, exacerbated by the extended drought, and meteorologists worry that a very bad wildfire season may in store for California and Texas.

There are so many factors involved in determining how bad a fire season will end up being, it goes way beyond how bad the drought is, AccuWeather.com Western Weather Expert Ken Clark said.

"Obviously with a drought, you tend to have much more fuel earlier in the season as the brush dries out quicker," Clark said. "But by mid- to late-summer and early fall, dry is dry and the brush is usually dry by then, no matter how wet the winter was. The fact that many fires are started by man, not nature, also has to be considered."

There have been 24 major wildfire incidents in California since Jan. 1, 2014, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Smoke from three fires is spotted from Twin Peaks in San Marcos, Calif., on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Photo/Jessie Parmenter)

In mid-May, a fire, dubbed the Poinsettia Fire, raged in Carlsbad, California, destroying homes, inducing evacuations and forcing school cancelations.

In January, California Gov. Edmund G. Brown ordered the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to hire additional seasonal firefighters to suppress wildfires as part of a state of emergency declaration.

During the week of May 4, 2014, there were 593 wildfires reported in the United States, including 17 major fires, according to National Interagency Fire Center.

As a multi-year drought grips California, the state is moving into its dry season.

While sometimes monsoon-type moisture can aid the generation of thunderstorms during the season, these storms rarely bring significant rain, Clark explained. A more likely scenario is that the lightning strikes from thunderstorms created during monsoon season could actually increase the risk of fire.

A wildfire approaches homes on Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. (AP Photo)

The last significant rainfall in the Los Angeles Basin of Southern California occurred in early March when over 1 inch of rain fell (1.17 inches at the L.A. Civic Center) with a minor event just over 0.25 of an inch at the beginning of April, AccuWeather.com Long-Range Forecaster Jack Boston said.

Any rain may have actually created more fuel for wildfire as it would help with vegetation growth, Boston said.

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"This along with the prospect of another Santa Ana event or two into June, suggested by the pattern, all add up to our elevated concern for this year's wildfire season," he said.

While drought continues to plague the Golden State, worsening drought conditions and increased fire concerns are mounting in Texas.

"The Texas drought is most severe in central and western Texas," he said. "Now we are expecting above-normal precipitation this summer in extreme western parts of this area, but unfortunately central Texas should be drier and hotter than normal this summer, according to our forecast."

Firefighters, including those from the Texas A&M Forest Service, battled a fire that started Sunday, May 11, 2014, and destroyed 89 homes near Fritch, Texas.

No matter what happens during the wildfire season, people need to be prepared, Clark said.

"What people need to know, and prepare for, is that there WILL be fires. We don't know where; we don't know when, but if they live in a place that is prone for potential fires they need to prepare and have a plan," he said.

To prepare, residents can make a safe zone around their property clear of brush and overhanging trees, according to Clark. In addition, knowing where important paperwork and photos are is essential, as well as having pet carriers readily accessible, so that if evacuations are issued quickly, residents can get on their way.

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