California is currently experiencing its fifth year of drought, and one of the driest four-consecutive years (2012-2015) in the past century.
As a result, this year alone firefighting crews have already responded to 1,562 wildfires that have burned nearly 28,000 acres, according to Daniel Berlant, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
This means twice as many California acres have burned during the first six months of this year than in 2015. According to Cal Fire, 11,353 acres burned for the same period in 2015.
Recently, crews in Northern California tackled a a 3,200-acre fire as it ripped through Los Padres National Forest, threatening several homes.
At the same time, a heat wave of 10 to 20 degrees above average in the South complicated matters for crews fighting a fire in the hills of Calabasas, a city of about 24,000 residents in the hills west of the San Fernando Valley and northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
The city is home to several affluent gated communities and numerous celebrities.
The Calabasas fire forced evacuation of at least 5,000 people, while helicopters made repeated drops on hot spots, drawing water from Lake Calabasas, a man-made lake in the midst of a private development. About 3,700 homes were ordered to evacuate in both Calabasas and nearby Topanga, another mountainous community west of Los Angeles and north of Malibu.
“Witnesses reported that the truck was traveling at a high rate of speed before colliding into a power pole, causing the pole to fall and a transformer to explode, thus igniting the fire.”
According to the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department, the fire started when a pickup truck struck a power pole on Mulholland Highway in Calabasas. Witnesses reported that the truck was traveling at a high rate of speed before colliding into a power pole, causing the pole to fall and a transformer to explode, thus igniting the fire, the department said.
More than 500 firefighters were involved in containment. According to Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief John Tripp, the conditions for firefighting were particularly serious and difficult for the wildfire crews. “At one point, the fire was licking right up through to the backyards of a lot of the homes of the residents in that area, to the point where even sheriffs’ deputies were grabbing garden hoses and using them to fight the fire,” he said.
Firefighting efforts were also complicated by the terrain. “If anyone is familiar with the area, we’re talking about very steep terrain, very limited access, very windy roads. This is very difficult for our apparatuses…they are very large pieces of machinery, they need a lot of room to operate…,” said Edward Osorio of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Fire officials said much of vegetation and brush in the Calabasas fire had not burned in more than 70 years. But multiple years of drought have left the mature brush extremely dry and ready to burn. Fire officials expect heat conditions to worsen during the summer across the state, as moisture levels drop quickly in timber and grass.
The National Interagency Fire Center, located in Boise, Idaho, recently indicated in its fuels and fires assessment that, while California rainfall this past winter was more than in recent years, it was ineffective in reducing drought severity across the central portions of the state.
California Governor Jerry Brown has already moved to impose permanent water conservation measures.
Under the governor’s executive order, emergency drought regulations, like bans on hosing down driveways or watering lawns within 48 hours of a rainstorm, will remain indefinitely. Urban water suppliers will be required to report their water use to the state each month and develop plans to get through long-term periods of drought.
Looks like it’s going to be a long hot summer. Are you ready?