Amid statewide drought, Central Coast fire officials brace for 'destructive' fire season

May 25, 2021

From May through late October, it’s typically all hands on deck for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). However, wildfires can take place regardless of the calendar.

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 97.5% of the State of California is in a drought, which Cal Fire San Luis Obispo Spokesperson Adan Orozco said could mean a potential for a heightened season.

“Every year is kind of up in the air, but there are factors that contribute into the potential for having a destructive fire season and all those things are lining up for us right now,” Orozco said.

The Central Coast is experiencing low fuel moisture levels due to the low amount of rainfall received in the colder months. This data is often calculated weekly and the critically low levels are raising flags for fire officials.

“Whether or not we get those ignitions is something else,” Orozco said.

Cal Poly Wildland Fire and Fuels Management Professor Dr. Chris Dicus said it’s already setting up to be a very scary summer.

The main factors of a drought, he said, are lack of rainfall and higher temperatures.

“Many of the forests are overstocked, meaning that they're more trees and what the land can be able to sustain and so they are sucking up all the water that's in the ground which also exacerbates the drought,” Dicus said.

Temperature, humidity and wind all play a role in causing wildfires.

Back in 2020, it was lightning – the northern parts of the state burning millions of acres, brought on by mother nature.

“There were just so many lightning strikes and created so many fires,” Orozco said. “It was a busy summer.”

The Central Coast has also been hit by human caused fires. Just recently on May 21 the Loma Fire in Santa Barbara ignited and in 2020 there was the Avila Fire, which threatened the Shell Beach community.

With the bulk of the wildfire season still ahead and no sight of rain for several months, fire officials say it is vital to be ready.

“We have to be extra extra careful this year because everything is there except for that first spark,” Dicus said.

While flames may be hundreds of miles away, Dicus adds it is important to prepare for the smoke this summer, as many pack up for post-pandemic trips.