'Normal' forecast: 4 to 6 large wildfiresApril 27th, 2010, 8:02 am by Pat Brennan,O.C. Register science, environment editor
A new fire season forecast soon to be released says the Orange County area can expect four to six large wildfires this summer. And that's considered normal.
"We're expecting kind of a normal year for most of the areas of Southern California," said Bruce Risher, an intelligence officer for the U.S. Forest Service. "In Orange County, it's going to be another average year."
For Orange County and the rest of Southern California, however, "average" doesn't sound too reassuring.
"That doesn't mean you're not going to have large fires," Risher said. "Obviously, a normal fire season includes large fires."
Large means 300 acres or more.
Right now, fire danger is low. Winter rains helped raise moisture levels in wild vegetation, alive and dead, said George Ewan, the Orange County Fire Authority's wildland fire defense planner.
The county's rainfall, while just a little above normal, felt far bigger after several dry years.
Still, moisture levels are up across Southern California, leading to the prediction of a normal season, Risher said.
He is part of a team of forest service experts who meet every year in Boulder, Colo., for a seasonal assessment workshop, then release forecasts for the fire season ahead.
The new assessment for Southern California is expected to be released this week, he said. It covers the period from July to September.
Grass at lower elevations is now drying out, Risher said.
"There's a huge grass crop everywhere from all the rains," he said. "There will be early season grass fires to keep us busy, that taper off in June or so."
Then, firefighters will likely be dealing with brush fires in the mountains as the grass dries out at higher elevations — a two-phase fire season, he said.
A new assessment will come in midsummer, Risher said, factoring in the Santa Ana winds.
"You can't predict the winds until maybe early August or so," he said.
Despite a cooler and wetter spring, however, and no forecast of an especially hot or dry summer, large fires are a fact of life in Southern California, Risher said.
"We're never going to have a year when we do not have a big fire" in the forecast, he said.
Fire is already on the minds of volunteers who fan out into wild country during high winds to discourage people from starting fires — either accidental or intentional.
The Orange County Fire Authority holds an open house Tuesday night at 6 p.m. for all firewatch volunteers as well as anyone else interested in the program. It will be at Fire Authority headquarters, 1 Fire Authority Road, in Irvine.Source: http://sciencedude.freedomblogging.com/2010/04/27/normal-forecast-4-to-6-large-wildfires/98039/
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