Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

El Niño did nothing to cut the intensity of SoCal's fire season

by Take Two®

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RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CA - APRIL 30: Firefighters battle the wind driven Etiwanda fire burning very close to homes on April 30. 2014 in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Flames from the fire which started in the San Bernardino National Forest spread quickly down the mountain into Ranch Cucamonga. (Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Getty Images) Jonathan Alcorn/Getty Images

El Niño was supposed to bring a torrent, but most of the wettest storms ended up circling around Southern California.

Even if we were deluged, though, no amount of rain could have dampened the outlook for fire season which remains elevated.

Over 29 million trees have died, says CAL FIRE, and no amount of rain will bring them back.

Take Two talks with CAL FIRE director Chief Ken Pimlott for more.

Interview highlights: 

When the initial El Nino predictions came out, did you think this would be an easier year for us? 

I think everybody was hopeful that El Nino would bring rain, particularly to Southern California, but we always plan for the worst. We have a long history in California of devastating fire seasons, we have a mediterranean climate that is conducive, even in years that have plentiful rainfall, we had the potential. While we were hopeful , we were also preparing for the potential that it didn’t materialize to the extent that we wanted. 

We did get some rain, but it didn’t quite materialize to the extent that would’ve been ideal. How big of a bummer is that? 

Actually ... more than California probably experienced the best impact and beneficial results from it in that we were sort of in a season that we were looking at more normal trending season, right now in the spring months, which still means that we have potential for wildfire. South of Sacramento, as you indicated, rainfall is not what was anticipated so we have conditions, throughout the central Sierra, the central coast and Southern California that may receive rain but four years of drought produced vegetation that is significantly below normal. The vegetation is still very dry. It would take several seasons of El Nino-like rainfall to really turn around the status, if you will, of the vegetation to be more normal. 

What is your outlook for how bad the summer might be? 

We treat fire season in California as year round. There are just peak periods during the year that are of most concern and obviously the peak summer months are what we’re targeting. In terms of that, we’re trending above normal fire potential in the southern and central sierras and the areas of the Southern California mountains. This is not only because of the dry conditions and tree mortality, but also, there’s actually a significant lighter fuel component, a grass crop. The rain that we did get was very conducive to producing an annual grass crop, which is essentially the kindling. That’s where the fire starts, just like in a campfire and can draw it up into the larger vegetation. So, we’re prepared, just as we have been in the last several years. We have a significant augmentation of resources that we’re prepared to deploy around the state and that’s not only firefighters on the ground but additional aircrafts and other assets as needed. 

To hear the full interview, click on the link above. This interview has been edited for clarity.

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