In 2019, California saw fires across the state, from the Kincade Fire up in Northern California, which burned more than 77 thousand acres, to the Saddleridge Fire, the Maria Fire and the Getty Fire down in Southern California.
Wildfires are more numerous and more damaging during the summer months or early fall in California, according to Cal Fire SLO Public Information Officer Clint Bullard. However, they can take place at any time of year.
As of March 1, 2020 there have already been 381 fires, according to Cal Fire. This is more than triple the number of fires at this time in 2019.
“Wildfires can definitely take place regardless of what the calendar says,” Bullard said.
On Dec. 6, 2019, Cal Fire SLO went into what is referred to as “winter preparedness staffing.” During this time of year, based on the current and projected weather conditions, it is common for a few state fire stations to be closed and the aircraft at the air base to go off contract.
Bullard said staffing is always dependent upon the need.
“At no time are we left without staffing,” Bullard said.
Historically, Cal Fire’s highest staffing level is from May 1 through late October and into November.
The rainfall this winter could play a role in what the fire season this summer may look like.
“We definitely keep an eye towards rain, or lack thereof, with the possibility of having the fuel moistures,” Bullard said. “Those fuel moistures may not have recovered due to lack of rain, and that could mean an early start to the fire season.”
Bullard said Cal Fire is still uncertain what the upcoming fire season will look like based on the rainfall this winter season.
San Luis Obispo County received some water last weekend, and more may be projected within the next seven to 10 days. Bullard said all of this will play a role in a potentially early fire season.
Bullard added that while the weather and fire season are somewhat interconnected, more water does not necessarily mean a more severe fire season.
In 2019 calendar year, Cal Fire reported roughly 237 fires and 6,00 acres within San Luis Obispo County. Bullard said these numbers were running on average for San Luis Obispo County compared to fires like the 2016 Chimney Fire that burned thousands of acres along the Santa Lucia Ridge.
Bullard added that the more people know about fire preparedness and the better they plan now, the better chances they have in the event of a wildfire.
“Always be aware that throughout the entire state, regardless of the calendar [and] what it says, the state can burn,” Bullard said.