.Sonoma, Napa Fire Season Predictions

It’s about that time of year in the wine country when we all start bracing for fire season. We’ve been lucky these past few years to avoid some of the more massive, destructive wildfires that tore through local hills, valleys and towns during the summers of 2017 through 2020. The super dry, drought conditions of those years have begun to ease — most of California’s reservoirs are reportedly filled to the brim right now — and local fire departments have grown progressively larger, smarter, quicker and better-funded. The Press Democrat published a preview last week of what to expect this fire season. Here are some highlights: “Over the next four months, according to the Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center, the chances for significant fire potential are normal or below normal in Northern California. That’s due to multiple factors, including greater rainfall, fewer extremely hot days, added moisture among fuels, a strong snowpack and more. But this good news may change at any time. ‘It’s not time to be complacent,’ Cal Fire spokesperson Jason Clay said. This year, the warmer season is starting off nearly the same as 2023, following yet another rainy winter. More than 37 inches of rain fell at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa since Oct. 1, 2023, according to official rainfall totals. The rains over the past two years have almost eliminated drought conditions in the state and have kept larger fire fuels, like trees, damp for longer. At the same time, lighter fuels that can lead to flashier burns, such as grasses, thrived in the conditions and grew. This was the same case last year, when there were no large wildfires. But that’s not a 100% guarantee big fires won’t pop up. The North Bay experienced a similarly wet winter before the 2017 North Bay firestorm that killed 40 people in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties in November 2017. The firestorm included about six named major fires and altogether destroyed nearly 6,200 homes in the region. So, it can change with the drop of a lightning strike or a whip of a wind gust, Clay said. ‘Mother Nature being kind to us,’ he said, has been one of the biggest reasons why there have not been larger wildfires in the past few years.” A bunch of new policies and programs put in place by local governments and partners in the offseason — like staging prescribed burns, creating defensible space and carving out “fuel breaks” to slow the spread of wildfires — seem to be helping, too. But fire officials warn that if dry La Niña winds start blowing midsummer, which is looking like a 50/50-plus possibility at this point, wildfire risk could rise significantly by August. So the resounding message from officials is still to stay vigilant. Healdsburg native and State Senate President Mike McGuire, who reps the North Coast, held an online town hall last week to kick off National Wildfire Preparedness Month. On the call, Santa Rosa’s fire chief said: “We can’t rest on the fact that we have had rain. We can’t rest on the fact that we have had a few years to get some really solid vegetation management, defensible space, fuel reduction work done. We all have to be prepared. We all have to be ready. We have to be prepared for this. It takes everybody for us to be successful.” That said, the residents of Mark West Springs between Santa Rosa and Windsor, a neighborhood razed by the Tubbs Fire in 2017, aren’t hesitating to celebrate how far they’ve come in the rebuilding process. They reportedly held a big party last Saturday afternoon at the site of a park they’re building — with features like a “cutting-edge water fountain and drought-tolerant butterfly garden,” according to the PD — to mark a community “rebirth” in the years since the fire. Onward and upward… (Source: Press Democrat & KRCB & North Bay Business Journal & Press Democrat & Press Democrat & KRCB)


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