This week’s high temperatures haven’t just prompted complaints from students. The weather also poses a fire threat to San Luis Obispo’s hillsides.
The heat wave began Oct. 23 and reached 108 degrees Oct. 24, according to Weather Underground. A Central Coast heat advisory warning was issued and was in effect until Oct. 25 at 8 p.m.
According to Cal Fire Public Information Officer Chris Elms, the area behind Sierra Madre and Yosemite Residence Halls that already burned during the Poly Fire is not at risk of reigniting. The hillsides cannot burn until the grass regrows from rainfall and dries out from heat, most likely by next summer. However, surrounding unburned areas may still be susceptible to igniting.
“There is still a lot of grass around the Poly area, around San Luis Obispo, that is primed and ready to go,” Elms said. “If we don’t start seeing weather changes in the next few weeks to a month, we could be seeing burn periods well into November, which we haven’t had in a few years.”
Three factors can increase fire danger: terrain or topography, vegetation dryness and weather. Heat waves can dry out the land in a matter of hours, making grass crops more likely to lead to wildfires with “explosive growth.” In addition, relative humidity, or the amount of moisture in the air, can influence wildfire likelihood. When relative humidity is under 20 percent, the situation is considered critical. Right now, San Luis Obispo is at about 11 percent relative humidity.
“When you put any kind of a heat source to [dry grass crops] — a spark, a cigarette, a match, whatever it is — it literally takes no energy for that stuff to burn and the fires grow extremely fast,” Elms said. “Add a little wind to that and it just expands the flames.”
As far as structures on campus, Facilities Customer Service Specialist Jessica Hunter said the high temperatures should not affect Internet or utilities on campus and the university has yet to issue any heat warnings.
In the meantime, students are trying to escape the heat.
“None of my classes are air conditioned,” electrical engineering sophomore Vicente Rios said. “Honestly, the heat is just kind of annoying because I’m just trying to go to class. I’m trying to make sure I’m surviving the heat for the day.”