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Could This Be California's Worst Year Yet for Wildfires?

By by Jillian MacMath, Staff Writer
April 13, 2015, 9:38:54 AM EDT

As widespread, historic drought conditions continue across California, firefighters are bracing for another severe wildfire season statewide.

The start of 2015, a period typical of slower activity for wildfires, kicked off with intensity.

In just the first three months of the year, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) responded to 588 wildfires.

The five-year average for this period is only 412 wildfires.

"We attribute the increase in the number of fires over the past several years to the effects of the ongoing drought," CALFIRE Chief Ken Pimlott told


This winter, the organization staffed over 70 fire engines to meet the winter fire threat and has already begun hiring and training additional seasonal firefighters.

However, as drought conditions worsen rather than improve, there are indications that the true fire season, typically occurring June through October, could be another one for the record books.

“We are expecting this fire season to be particularly bad, related to current drought conditions but also related to the timing of the moisture we have received as well as other factors,” according to Dana Wilson, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Land Management.

“Certain regions in the state are at a higher risk than others as well, particularly central and southern California,” Wilson added.

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As of March 31, 2015, more than 93 percent of the state was experiencing severe to exceptional drought conditions.

Temperatures across the state were averaging more than 10 degrees F above normal for the last week of March, resulting in the further disappearance of an already insufficient snowpack, according to the US Drought Monitor.

Measurements conducted on April 1 revealed that the state’s total snowpack was only 5 percent of average, forecasting a dire situation for reservoirs in the months ahead.

“We are going to be challenged this year with water sources and are calling on the public to help conserve what is becoming a scarce and precious resource,” Pimlott said.


Additionally, they report that drought is making trees “far more susceptible” to disease and pest infestation. “…We are seeing an increase in dead or dying trees which will add literal fuel to any wildfires in the affected areas,” Pimlott said.

To deal with the augmented threat, the organization will bring on full staff in some areas as many as six to eight weeks ahead of normal.

They have also brought air tankers and helicopter crews back on line earlier than normal, contracted two additional tankers to bolster their fleet and added additional fire engines to those already in place.

“What I can say is that the vegetation conditions exist to support large and damaging fires this summer,” Pimlott said.

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