By Fire Captain Ryan Peters, Aptos La Selva Fire District
In November’s column, I quipped that winter is on the way. Apparently, winter is going to be a bit late this year. As of this writing, it’s a balmy 70 degrees outside and nearly nice enough to take the laptop and the beach chairs out to Seacliff for the day. Even though you may still be wearing flip flops, winter will eventually show up.
For now, with unseasonably warm and dry conditions statewide, we’ve witnessed an increase in late fall wild land fire incidents. Please give a thought for our Southern California counterparts, their fire season kicked into overdrive during the past couple of weeks. The wind events in that area, coupled with extremely low relative humidity and bone-dry fuel moistures have lead to several incredibly dynamic and dangerous large-scale fires.
Thousands of citizens remain under mandatory evacuation orders with over 750 structures destroyed so far. Incredibly, according to local media, the Thomas Fire has quickly become the states fifth largest in modern history at over 230,000 acres in size. Nearly 8,500 firefighters assigned to six different incidents are dealing with some of the most demanding and dangerous conditions for fire suppression seen in recent memory.
Even though we experienced a wet rainy season last year, California is on the tail end of a long multi-season drought. In 2013 the Pfeiffer Fire in Big Sur started on December 17 in which thirty-four homes and four outbuildings were destroyed by a fire which burned in heavy drought stressed fuels. On December 20 the fire was contained and residents in the area being allowed to return to their homes on December 23. A crew from the Aptos-La Selva Fire District was deployed to the incident as part of a Strike Team and, upon their safe return, they commented extensively on the extreme fire behavior they had witnessed during the firefight. All of this just a week shy of Christmas!
Is this the new norm? Many in the scientific community are saying not so fast, however there are many factors being studied that are pointing to that possibility. According to the scientists at the California Weather Blog, there are findings from a new study that link our warm and dry winters to unusually warm sea surface temperatures in the western Pacific Ocean. The study has linked tropical warmth in the western Pacific Ocean causing mid winter “ridging.” Some of you weather nuts (like myself) may recall the 2014-15 and 2015-16 Triple R or the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” of high pressure that dominated our Winter weather and acted as a wall deflecting storms up into the Pacific Northwest and away from us. Check out Weatherwest.com and read their article, it’s very interesting.
Aside from the possibility of having a Christmas day BBQ and enjoying another sunny day, we may very well be looking at drier conditions. That’s not to say we won’t get precipitation. We definitely will. Your local Firefighters recommend remaining ever diligent and prepared for fire seasons to extend a bit longer than what we’re accustomed to. A good practice would include making sure you maintain good clearance of fuels away from your house and property year round. Also, make sure your roads and driveways are clear and accessible for you, your neighbors, and for us as in the event we need to make access with our fire engines and emergency vehicles.
Please make sure your address numbers are clear and easily seen, and for those of you who have water storage on your properties, consider letting us know where those storage systems are and if there is a way for us to connect to them for fire suppression operations. These are small items that go a long way to assist everyone in setting the table for a safe operation if a fire were to start.
The key to staying safe and prepared is good communication within the community. We all have a part to play in making sure our families and loved ones are safe year round. So let’s maintain our sense of fire safety and preparedness well into this winter, it’s a great habit to get into and will keep our community strong and successful for years to come!
All doom and gloom aside (it’s my job to make sure we are safe and prepared!), it is the holiday season and it’s a great time of year to spend time with friends and family.
From all of us here at the Aptos-La Selva Fire District, we wish you the happiest of holidays and a wonderful and safe new year!