Parts of California face an above-normal potential for significant large fires, the National Interagency Fire Center’s Sept. 1 outlook says.
The number of acres burned could exceed the 10-year median, after warm August weather dried deadfall and the unusually thick grass crop.
The NIFC said an above-normal risk is expected at the higher elevations of Northern California through October.
Higher-elevation fuel and soil moisture remains above normal in the wake of heavy snowpack and runoff — which left dead and down trees and limbs, a factor in the Aug. 22 Mountain Fire outside Redding.
NIFC expects warmer- and drier-than-usual conditions in the final four months of the year, with offshore winds increasing in October.
“We are starting to see an increase in activity in Northern California now because of lightning,” NIFC meteorologist Bryan Henry said in an interview.
Southern California carries above-normal risk of large fires at mid-elevations and areas prone to east winds, while other locations carry average risk, the NIFC report said.
“We are still concerned about the grass crop in middle and low elevations, with upcoming Santa Ana winds,” Henry said. The dry, downslope winds originate from the east.
A lack of summer moisture dried fuels quickly in the Sierra Nevada, the NIFC forecast said. Fuels away from the coast should dry to nearly critical levels by the end of September in Southern California.
Henry said fire season has been less active than usual, except in Alaska.
“We keep getting fire starts, but the fires have a difficult time getting through the fuels,” he said Aug. 29, when the nationwide total number of fires and acres burned were 74% and 73% of average, respectively.
Summer temperatures in much of the West were a few degrees higher than average but not as high as in recent years, Henry said. Fuels took about a month longer than usual to dry, slowing some lightning-caused fires.
In the Northwest, Northern Rocky Mountains, Great Basin and Southwest, NIFC pegged the risk of large wildfires as normal through year’s end.
The risk is below normal in parts of the Rockies.
Warm, dry conditions on the West Coast likely will persist over the next few months, potentially increasing fire activity where lingering fuel moisture recently helped to keep fires fewer or smaller, NIFC said.