As October arrives and fire season winds down across the country, fire danger continues to be a significant threat in California. Moisture in Southern California’s vegetation is at a critically low level, and over 3,000 firefighters are still on the job battling eight wildfires across the state.
The greatest danger lies in the southern portion of the state as the Santa Ana winds- strong, extremely dry down-slope winds that originate inland- pick up and risk spreading existing fires at much higher rates. The winds have yet to appear this season, but when combined with the drought, high temperatures, and low humidity currently gripping California, they can lead to explosive fires. This danger is also in a particularly troublesome spot in the state, San Bernardino County, the fifth most populous county in California.
San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig held a press conference earlier this week, stating, “Don’t be fooled by the beautiful weather we have been experiencing lately; the Santa Ana winds will blow and we all know how quickly our mountains and deserts dry out. Fuel moisture levels are at an all-time low. One Santa Ana wind event can ignite and spread a fire quickly.”
Five deaths have already been associated with wildfires in California this year, but historically, some of the deadliest fires in the state have occurred in October. The Old Fire burned over 70,000 acres this month in 2003, killing six and destroying hundres of homes in the San Bernardino Mountains. The Cedar Fire also began in October of 2003, killing 15 people and burning a total of 280,000 acres, making it the largest fire in California’s recorded history. In 2006 the Esperanza fire, west of Palm Springs, killed five firefighters and burned 40,200 acres over the course of just four days in late October.
“Now is the time to get prepared,” says Hartwig.