During the same period last year, there were 97 wildfires throughout the state that burned 22 acres. The five-year average for January is 108 fires, with 58 acres burned, according to Cal Fire.
For Shasta County and the eastern half of Trinity County, there were seven wildfires in January, according to Cheryl Buliavac, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire’s Shasta-Trinity Ranger Unit. The ranger unit’s five-year average for January is one fire, she said.
While January finished with rain and snow storms, wind and dry conditions settled over some parts of the state earlier in the month, said Christine McMorrow, a Cal Fire spokeswoman.
There was a red flag warning in Southern California, and “quite a few fires popped up in that time.” There were also windy conditions in parts of Central and Northern California, she said.
“So why more fires than last year? It’s really hard to say exactly,” McMorrrow said. “But we did have quite a few fires pop a couple of weeks ago, and I think it’s just a good reminder that the majority, 95 percent, of fires are human caused. And when we have conditions that are just right, such as wind and low humidity it’s easy for those fires to get big enough that the fire department needs to be called.”
The biggest fire of the year, so far, was 685 acres on the Wind Wolves Preserve in southwest Kern County. But not all of the fires were in Southern California. Cal Fire has reported wildfires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.
McMorrow said many fires are put out before they become large enough to garner headlines.
When including fires on U.S. Forest Service lands, the number for January jumps to 345 from about 300, according to Cal Fire.
McMorrow said it’s too early to predict how the fire season will shake out during the summer and fall based on what happens in the middle of winter.
However, precipitation totals continue to lag, putting most of the state in an ongoing drought. As of Jan. 26, most of the state was in severe to extreme drought, according to the United States Drought Monitor.
Even after last week’s snow and rain storm, rainfall totals for the Redding area also are far below normal for the second year in a row.
While the normal rainfall for January is 5.96 inches, this year 4.93 inches of precipitation fell at the Redding Municipal Airport, according to the National Weather Service. Rain and snowfall totals are also well below average for the water year, which begins Oct. 1.
Since the beginning of October 2020 until Jan. 31, 8.78 inches of rain and snow fell at the Redding airport. The normal for this time of year is 18.81 inches, according to the weather service.
Drought conditions, however, reflect more than just rainfall, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. When the agency sets drought levels, it also measures how much water is in streams, lakes, and soils compared to the usual for the same time of year.
For the past couple years, the North State’s three major water storage reservoirs have been well below average.
On Monday, Lake Shasta was at 69% of average for this time of year; Trinity Lake was at 72% of average, and Lake Oroville was at 54% of average, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter. He is among the first on the scene at breaking news incidents, reporting real time on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Damon is part of a dedicated team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!