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Hotter temperatures mean more fires in California this year

September 28, 2012 |  5:30 am
Ponderosa fire flames and smoke

Hotter temperatures for longer periods have created a busier-than-usual year for wildfires, especially in Northern California, a Cal-Fire spokesman said Thursday. As of Sept. 22, the state fire department had battled 5,070 blazes, 1,300 more than last year.

Typically, the extreme hot weather common in August and September has begun to ease by now, but "we haven't seen that relief this year in our temperatures," said Daniel Berlant, a Cal-Fire spokesman.

Above-average temperatures and "incredibly dry conditions," he said, have resulted in the higher number of wildfires, roughly 800 above the number in a typical year. More than 128,000 acres have been scorched this year, up from the average of about 120,000. Last year's 3,763 fires burned a relatively small 52,000 acres.

Northern California has borne the brunt of the blazes this year, accounting for about 80% of the total number. Colusa and Lake counties west of Sacramento have had many large fires, including one that threatened about 300 homes. In August, the Ponderosa fire north of Sacramento threatened about 3,000 homes; it destroyed more than 130 structures and charred just under 28,000 acres.

This week the Shockey fire in eastern San Diego County near the Mexican border burned nearly 3,000 acres, destroyed 11 homes and led to the death of an elderly man.

Berlant warned that conditions in the Southland continue to be ripe for a big blaze.

"The key factor we're hoping not to have is the winds," he said. "Winds will dictate ... where and when we see large fires."

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-- Martha Groves

Photo: The Ponderosa fire burns in Northern California in August. Credit: Andrea Fuhrmann / Record Searchlight

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